One of the things I’ve been doing, is nurturing my inner artist. It’s something I haven’t done in a long, long time. Not because I didn’t make room for it, but because I was hung up on something. I was never sure what that was, until a few weeks ago.
My ideas are sophisticated, but I feel like I could never “get there.” I used to be in graphic design, but I’d reach the point where I couldn’t advance, and then I’d stop. Either out of frustration or because something else, something more important came along. Then I’d meet someone, as I often tend to do, who’s very sophisticated in their craft. Either online or off, I get drawn to people whose styles I enjoy. Drew Pocza. Echo Chernik. John Kovalic. Leanne Buckley. Jeff Preston. Liz Danforth. Michael Whelan. Alex Ross. Keith Haring. Mike Mignola.
And the list goes on.
When it comes to my own artwork — whether that be calligraphy or jewelry making or whatever — I’d freeze up because I’d see these very. awesome. people. do very. awesome. things. Only, I could do those things, one day, if I had the time to practice what was already there. What I had already started to do, but abandoned because I wasn’t “good” enough to move forward.
To get around that? I’ve been going back to the basics. I’ve been focusing on technique and learning about new materials as opposed to worrying about this amazing idea for “X” that’s in my head. I’m not selling it or sharing it or doing anything other than worrying about those fundamentals. So far, I’ve started with jewelry making, but I will be expanding out from there. Each technique I learn I’m gradually moving into more advanced ideas to progress from “simple” to “complex.”
Applying This Principle to Writing
This morning, though, it occurred to me that a lot of writers experience the same thing. You have this awesome idea in your head for a novel or whatever, but you’re worried about the execution. You don’t know how to get the words to flow right on the page, so you write halfway through a story and you stop. Or you become the perpetual fan of another author, admiring what they do, because you don’t think you can do the same thing.
The thing is, dear readers, you can. You really, really can do whatever you want — provided you have the patience to learn. While creativity often has roots in natural aptitude, it’s also about having the right mindset and allowing yourself to be creative in a non-judgmental environment. That frame-of-mind requires you to remove all of your objections, all of those people who told you “I can’t” or “You’re dumb” or “You’ll never be…” and focus on the work. Or, as Christine Merrill once told me: protect the work.
Even if you’re not an experienced author, you still have work to nurture, to protect. It may be unfinished work or developing work or learning-how-to work, but it’s still yours. It’s still your baby. If you can’t write a novel right off the bat, don’t beat yourself up. Would you write a symphony if you just learned how to sing? Sure, you could be a prodigy, but most authors aren’t. Like pianists, practice makes perfect.
Instead of making excuses or apologizing for what you can’t do: remove your ego. Remove the idea that just because you can’t do something, means you’re a failure. You are not. Just get that out of your head. Think of yourself as a student and try working on the basics instead. Grammar. Punctuation. Sentence structure. Action scenes. Love scenes. Description. Etc.
And don’t let anyone tell you what you can’t do. Not right now, not when you’re learning. Accepting criticism, dealing with editors/agents/publishers, revising and applying comments to a story is part and parcel to being a writer, but that comes further down the road. For now? Fall in love with the words. After all, if you don’t love to write, then whatever else happens next is meaningless, because in your heart — you’ve already set yourself up to fail. You’ve said: “I can’t do this because I’m not good enough.” Instead, I’m recommending that you say: “I’m new, so I’m allowed to make mistakes. One day, I will tell the story that I want to write, but right now, I’m going to focus on learning how.”
The nice thing about focusing on my artwork, is that I’ll have examples to share with you further down the road. It’s a lot harder to explain that with writing, which is one of the reasons why I highly recommend you pick up Nascence by Tobias Buckell. If you want writing advice, this is the book to get because it does something that most writing advice books don’t — show you his failures on the story level when he first started out. That, dear readers, is invaluable because that is something that’s not easy to teach. That’s something you often have to learn.