Yes, Virginia, You Can Totally Force Art

“You can’t force art.”

Google that phrase, you’ll get over 20,000 hits.

Many of them seem to agree with the notion that, indeed, you can’t force art.

Can’t do it. Can’t force art, creativity, innovation, invention.

To which I say a strongly-worded:




I’ll posit that not only can you force art, but you in fact must force art.

Because art is not a magical power. Art is a result. It is a consequence of our actions, and the very nature of an action is that it is something we forced ourselves to do.

(One wonders if this is where the notion of a hack comes from. I quite like that verb, actually — to hack. Hacking through underbrush. Hacking apart a chair. Hacking up a hairball!)

Now, this phrase, this notion, this bewildering admonishment — you can’t force art” — seems to share two possible meanings depending on the intent of the phrase-utterer.

The one utterance seems to mean, “Well, of course you make art, but when it feels like you’re really forcing it — you know, like, trying to cram a shoe into a pasta-maker or a goat into an elephant or a barrel cactus up your own ass — then you’re not likely to create art at all.”

The apparent definition of the second utterance is a far less reasonable: “ART JUST HAPPENS. We are all connected by a mystical muse-based frequency and sometimes the metal fillings in our teeth tune us into that radio station of raw inspiration and that’s how art happens — we are giant open orifices waiting for the voodoo ejaculation of the Muse’s artful seed.”

Let’s tackle each of these in turn.

The first notion makes sense. It sounds right. Every author and surely every artist hits a point during the act of creation where it feels like the torch is guttering. The campfire’s gone dark for the night. So, you think, “I could just quit for the day. Go have a Pepsi and some animal crackers and watch some TV, wash some dishes, masturbate to the 2014 Ikea catalog (nggh Gronkulla!), go to bed and recharge these here art batteries.” And this is generally sensible because obviously you have to quit the day’s work at some point. Working for 12 hours straight on a single thing may lead to art, but it’s just as likely it’ll lead to you inking a baffling manifesto on your skin in your own waste (“MY BODY IS THE TEXT BEHOLD MY SKINRIDER’S EPIPHANY”).

But there’s also a thing that happens where you might, using this reasonable-sounding excuse of not forcing it, quit your day a bit early. Before your minimum efforts are even complete. Example: just the other day I was crawling through my word count the way a starving man crawls through a muddy ditch to get to a Dorito he imagined at the end. It was just a boggy fucking slog. Most days for me are a fairly nice clip to 2000 words, and then the next 1000 take more time and require more teeth-gritting and sphincter-clenching, but this day just felt like I was trapped, like each sentence written was the drag of a rusty cheese grater across my wrist to free the hand pinned underneath a fallen soda machine.

I got to 1500 hundred words and I said, FUCK THIS NOISE, then I may have yelled YOLO and violently cleared everything off the top of my desk. And the thought that went through my head was, basically, don’t force it. The other days have been good. Ease off the stick, Earnhardt, Jr, tomorrow will be better. The story will be waiting.

But also this little pokey pointy stick kept jabbing my brain-kitten, thus making said kitten hiss and spit. So I stopped and said, okay, I always always always get my 2000 words — it’s a point of fucking pride here so I’ll squeeze the blood from this brick and see if I can’t wring out another fuck-smeared shit-box full of a likely-worthless 500 words. Words I figured I’d throw away.

And I did it. Miserably. Five hundred words is usually easy for me to write (this post is already over that). This felt like proctology with a pair of soup ladles.

I knew I’d probably scrap those words.

But I went back and read them. And you know what?

They don’t read like they were the result of exploratory rectal surgery.

They don’t read as if they were the peed-out kidney stones they felt like at the time.

They are, in fact, pretty damn solid.

As solid — if not moreso — than the words that seemed to fall out of me on “good” writing days.

I forced it. It hurt. And yet, those words still work.

Now, to the second idea, that art is a lightbulb in our heads connected to a switch that we do not control, well. You can probably guess my response. It probably involves the word “poop” and “noise” placed adjacent to one another and possibly yelled whilst flailing.

What happens in the dark of your mind — that sudden surge of inspiration! — is not actually art in the same way that a struck match is not actually a bonfire. You have to do something with it. You have to have agency. You must claim a course of action. You gotta throw the match, motherfucker. Creativity is worthless without the act of creation that follows it: otherwise all you’re doing is daydreaming into the void, giving a gift of inspiration to whatever mad elder gods roil and coil in the deepest darkest basket of far-flung ultradimensional space.

Art doesn’t just happen.

Art is made.

We are makers! We are doers!

So go make! Go do!

Embrace the desire to create. Give life and love and opportunity to the ephemeral shapes and shadows your imagination has gifted to your mind.

Art is surgery. It is extracting the phantoms of your imagination and packing them with meat and bone and blood so that they get up from the slab that is the screen of your word processor or your notebook — or your canvas or your stage or your camera lens.

You can’t force art?

Bullshit. Can too.

Sometimes, you gotta.

If you think that makes me a hack and not an artist, fuck it. I’m a hack.

But I’m a hack who’s making art, and you’re just an artist who can’t hack it.

*drops mic*

*is trampled by a startled elephant with a goat hanging out of its butt*

(More wallpapers below:)

119 responses to “Yes, Virginia, You Can Totally Force Art”

  1. Great post. I know exactly what you mean about writing stuff that looks crap and then finding that it’s not so bad. I find reading the first draft of a scene incredibly depressing but I shut my eyes to it and edit. And then somehow, if I put in enough work, it becomes magically transformed and when I read it and think,

    “Blimey, I can’t believe I wrote that.” I know it’s time to move onto the next scene.

    However, for what it’s worth, I think most of the people talking about not forcing art are actually talking about burning out. There definitely are times when I have to stoop pulling stuff out of my brain, step back and concentrate on putting things in.



  2. Things I try to think about when it feels like I’m Forcing It:
    1. Is there something here that I DON’T KNOW ENOUGH ABOUT? Character motivation, Clue Hiding etc. find that out. Make decisions, maybe the wrong ones and push through.
    2. Am I bored of this scene? Why? If I’m bored, will the reader be bored? What can I connect to, get excited about? Push through.
    3. Am I just… AFRAID? Afraid of Writer Spiders, failure, success, that I’m not good enough, etc. this is harder to push through. Sometimes I can do it, sometimes I can’t.

    Also, fear is so much the background of my writing life, 1 & 2 get all mixed up. I try to push through. I am not always successful. But tomorrow is another writing day.

  3. I have to say this sounds rather gatekeeperish. Haven’t we had enough of that lately?

    When I draw a picture or write a story or make an omelet I look at it as ART. It may not be a masterpiece, but beauty (or taste) is in the eye (or mouth) of the beholder.

  4. Gall dang it! The reply button to someone doesn’t work at my office. I’m done posting from here. The previous entry was in reply to a commenter, not to Chuck’s blog entry.

  5. Agree entirely. Many times I’ve left the work in progress with forehead bloody and bits of skin hanging from the writing desk, convinced I’ve just soul-tortured myself into hacking out nonsense; only to review later and find some of it was actually workable prose. Sometimes you just have to get those Sisyphus muscles twitching.

  6. You might have to force your ass in the chair and stop thinking about what texts you’re getting or postpone your urge to snack. That’s the hard part. That and throwing away a lot of paper while keeping ass in chair. Practice, practice, practice.

  7. No pain no gain, right? We force our way into the world and never stop forcing our way forward, as I see it. But with art, unlike with physical fitness or sporting achievement, say, which require little more than force, the artist must also (and essentially) finesse the subtle and elusive aspects of the artistic imagination and insights to shape them into works of art. And this finessing often works in opposition to the more physical forcing applied to get the job done, at least in my experience. The more you force it, the less you finesse it, or so it sometimes seems. But perhaps this is a peculiarly feminine perspective…?


    • It’s true that we need to finesse more than someone just using BFI,
      For me, though, that’s what editing’s for. Get the words out, forced or not, and they’ll still need editing.

      If you’re in a place where you’re having to force words out, that’s definitely not the time to leave the internal editor running (I’m not a fan of the internal editor while writing, at any time); she can wait until after I’ve done with the first draft, then she can finesse the piece to the nines. 🙂

  8. Yep, this is my new motivation. Almost like a Zen monk approach. Write for writing’s sake, not for results. The results will come with consistent practice. If they don’t, then at least I got to live a life of creativity. Thanks for sharing this. Love your blog.

  9. […] Chuck Wendig (more insight and more swearing than most people do in a lifetime) says Yes, Virginia, You Can Totally Force Art « terribleminds: chuck wendig and he has a point. There comes a time when you either say "I'll do this because I'll do […]

  10. […] piece I’ve read lately was Chuck Wendig’s deliciously potty-mouthed blog entry “Yes, Virginia, you can totally force art”. Nothing in there is new, it’s just the same as everywhere, but the way he presented the […]

  11. I agree with Ipstribling…..This one’s going on the ‘wall of fame’ as inspiration to keep on keepin on. And it came at an awesome time, since it was buried in about 30 unread emails and I had decided to clean out the proverbial email closet in an effort to clean out my mind and hit today’s wordcount. <3

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