What writers need to hear

In drawing class, our instructor was talking about how professional artists could create using a toothbrush, if they wanted. The tools don’t matter, he said; what matters is how you use the tools. The only difference between us students and the professionals, he said, is that they kept drawing.

It’s fascinating how much of what he says also applies to writing. The tools and methods don’t matter—you can reserve early mornings for writing time at your computer or (like me) stick tiny notebooks in your purse for use during the kids’ swim classes or long car trips. The point is that you’re writing, not that you’re writing in some official approved manner.

And I think writers look for that official approval because they want that validation. They want someone to tell them they’re a writer, that they belong, and they’re not being pretentious, especially if they haven’t written professionally before. They want proof to wave around, like a certificate, to show that they’re legitimate.

You don’t need it. If you write, you’re a writer. If you’re serious about learning and improving your craft, it will show. You need no seal of approval from anyone.

A while back, our drawing instructor went around the room and asked everyone why they were taking his class. Now, I have no expectation of becoming a professional artist. I’m too much of a beginner to plan on gallery shows or book illustrations. So when he asked me why I draw, I said, “Because I can.” It was the most honest answer I could think of, and I still think it’s the right answer. It’s also why I write.

You don’t need to prove that you deserve to create. You just need to create. Everything else flows from that.

Working big to small

Between two book editing projects, a few smaller editing projects, my usual newspaper gig, and a case study, August was unexpectedly busy. But here I am, and I’m looking forward to more busy-ness in September (as well as a break from all the heat advisories).

In the meantime, I’ve been revising a few stories of my own as well as working on the next story, and beginning research for the story after that. And I keep relying on advice from my drawing teacher.

Nope, I am not a professional artist. I have just enough talent to know how much more I would need to be a professional artist. But I love art in all its forms, from gallery paintings to comics, and I take art classes for fun. My teacher for the past few sessions is an excellent artist, helpful in all aspects of technique, and there are a few things he says regularly. One is that you have to study an object pretty thoroughly before you can draw it, instead of just glancing at it and rushing your pencil into action. Another is that you need to work “big to small”—that is, sketch in the big shapes first, figure out where all pieces are in relation to each other, then start to add in the details.

Turns out his advice works pretty well for writing, too. Even pantsers—and I am definitely a pantser—have to know a few basics before they start writing in earnest. Be a reporter: Know the who, what, when, where, why, and how. In other words, study before you draw.

And work out the character arcs, plot, beginning, and ending before you stress about the color of the curtains in the living room, or whether you’re using the right word to describe the sound of your protagonist’s voice in one scene. Sketch in the most important things first, and swing back later for the details. Work big to small.

I didn’t expect to get good writing advice from art class, but I’m calling it an extra-credit lesson, and will use it to the fullest.

Happy reading and writing this month.

Creativity outside the comfort zone

“Sure, I’ll do an art class with you,” I told my friend. I wasn’t expecting any actual art to come out of it, but hey, why not.

I hadn’t taken a proper art class since college. (Paint and Wine with my husband on Valentine’s Day doesn’t count. Though it was fun.) I was an art minor. There might be some germ of a molecule of art talent in there somewhere, but I knew words were my thing. That was especially obvious when I looked at my classmates’ work; if I was playing cute little melodies, art-wise, they had full orchestras going. So I had no great expectations for my art classes, but I enjoyed them. Then I graduated from college and stopped making art.

A month ago, my friend said she’d always wanted to take an art class but hadn’t done it. I shrugged and signed up with her.

It was a pastels class — a medium I’d used twice, maybe — and the instructor was great about sketching out the way to copy the chosen picture, piece by piece, with suggestions on color and type of line. And with such guidance, I got this: IMG_2372 (1)

Which isn’t bad!

The thing is, I dropped art in the first place because I was a writer, and I thought I should focus on writing. But practicing any form of creativity makes you better at being creative. Making art, or music, or writing in a different form or style might even jog you out of a creative rut, helping you to see something with a fresh eye (hey, see what I did there?).

I still don’t see myself as an artist. But remembering that I could make art, aside from the various works-in-progress in my notebooks, was actually pretty empowering.

My friend and I had a fine time and are already discussing which class to take next. I can’t wait.