Once upon a time, when journalism was journalism, gossip was gossip, and propaganda was recognized for what it is, aspiring beat writers learned to begin their news stories by answering six basic questions: Who? What? Where? When? Why? and How?
The useful mnemonic device has a history stretching back to Cicero, although early rhetoricians framed the questions differently, and the form evolved over time. Perhaps most famously, Rudyard Kipling, in his well-known Just So Stories (1902), included this bit of verse in a tale he called “The Elephant’s Child.”
I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew).
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.
I send them over land and sea,
I send them east and west;
But after they have worked for me, I give them all a rest.
Questions beginning with one of these six famous words are especially useful for information gathering, since none can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no”. Anyone hoping to write an informative news story, provide a good interview, understand historical context, or carry on enjoyable dinner conversation with a stranger soon will appreciate the importance of the “five W’s and an H”.
More than a set of tools for professional journalists, Kipling’s honest serving-men pop up in surprising places. Listening to conversations among aspiring artists — painters and writers, photographers, musicians and poets – I hear them put to use again and again.
Who would be interested in what I have to say?
What should I write about?
Where could I exhibit my work?
When would I find the time?
Why should I keep working when no one seems to care?
How can I become a more skilled photographer (writer, painter, musician, poet)?
In a world filled with questions about the creative process, professional photographer Chase Jarvis has a few answers. In an intriguing blog entry titled There are No Excuses, Jarvis reveals his sensitivity to creative angst.
I’ve heard you say that there’s nothing to take a picture of. I’ve heard you say you don’t know what to make, when to make it, how to make it, what to do.
I’ve heard you say that you don’t know how to get your work “out there.” I’ve heard you say that you don’t know what to put on your blog. I’ve heard. I’ve heard. I’ve heard. And I promise you, I, too, have said all these things.
Then, he goes on to remind us that such questions are rooted in a time when artists required permission from others for their work to be seen. Permission came in the form of being hired to shoot a news story, to write a magazine feature, or produce a graphic layout for a business. As he says:
“They” sat up in fancy corner offices and if you were good — no, scratch that, good AND lucky — “they” would say “yes” and then you’d be permitted to share your work with the world.
Not any more. It’s the first time in the history of the world that you can share your work without anyone’s permission. What are you waiting for? Spend your own time and your own money. Then, hit post, publish, share, send, or whatever makes the software push it out into the world.
According to Jarvis, the emerging paradigm for artists of every sort can be summed up with elegant simplicity.
The first step is to create something. It could be a photo, a video, a poem or a painting. For that matter, it could be a blog, a business model or a bit of computer software. In a separate post titled, “Thirteen Things Crucial for Success (In Any Field)”, he expands by saying:
Over-thinking, pontificating, and wondering are tools for the slacker. People don’t care what almost happened, or what your problems are, or why something wasn’t. They care about what is, and what will be.
That requires actually making stuff happen. Pros do; make; ship; send; publish; post; and deliver. Amateurs sit around and wonder, or worse, scratch their arse.
The next step is to share what’s been created. Send it to an editor or submit it to a jury if you like, but don’t limit yourself to such traditional means. Post it on a website or blog. Tweet the link. Link on Facebook. Find editors and publishers who accept online submissions and email it.
Finally, sustain yourself. Keep a day job until you can quit your day job and devote yourself full time to your art, or keep your day job and continue creating and sharing for the pure pleasure of it all — especially the pleasure of not requiring “permission” from anyone.
A lifetime of productive beauty and personal satisfaction could emerge as a result of embracing Jarvis’s framework.
Begin by creating, sharing and sustaining something: anything. Then, do it again, and again, and again, until the rhythm of production becomes as natural as breathing. Cycles and repetition are as crucial for the creative life as they are for the physical. Just as breath enlivens our bodies, the ebb and flow of creative spirit enlivens a growing body of work that illustrates who we are, what we stand for, where we’re going, and why.
When we will arrive, and precisely how we’ll travel is, of course, intensely personal,and part of the mystery of creativity.
Had I read Jarvis when I first began writing, I might or might not have recognized the truth of what he says. Today, there’s no question in my mind that what he says is true. As the rhythms of creation develop, as the skills improve and the body of work begins to build, possibilities become reality. The picture-taker becomes the photographer. The doodler sells a first canvas. The software designer gets a contract. The writer is published.
Everyone forges their own way to creative satisfaction, of course, but I’ve found the path Jarvis describes to be recognizable, enjoyable to travel and amenable to constant revision. My hope is that all of us can be intrigued by his perspective, and encouraged to re-commit to our own journeys: creating, sharing, and sustaining ourselves — and others — in unimaginable ways.