What’s Important? Artist Edition

Writing is hard.  At the beginning, everything is NaNoWriMo and instincts and blissful ignorance.  You begin to learn about the craft and get better, and while your first novel was truly terrible, you can laugh about it and move on.  You take pride in calling yourself a writer, among all those people who want to write but never do.  Then it begins to fade.  You keep making the same mistakes.  Words start coming slowly, and a bestselling author publishes two books in the time it takes you to get out of your slump.  The real world tries to pull you out of your fictional one.  Writing is hard.

Drawing is hard.  You start out doodling, and it turns out well, so you look into what else you can do.  It’s fun to experiment with colors, papers, and tools.  You start learning the glories of shadows, shapes, and (what a thrill!) crosshatching.  You’ve got your own sketchbook, and your doodles are getting more and more sophisticated.  Gone are the days of simple stick figures— you’ve got dragons and your friends’ faces and every good thing.  Then it begins to fade.  You begin to realize your circles are lopsided.  People look a little too noodly for your liking.  You’re still working on depth.  People want to see your sketchbook and start comparing you to other people.  You start drawings but don’t finish them because they don’t look right.  Drawing is hard.

Music.  Crafts.  Cooking.  All of it is hard.  Creating stuff is hard.  Words, sounds, sights, tastes, smells…  Well, anyone can make smells.  But good smells!  Creating is hard.  You have to think it up, gather materials, put stuff together to make different stuff, and throw it out for the world to judge.  When they get it, they might or might not like it.  If you don’t have to redo it, you get to start all over again, using none of the same things you just used!  Hurrah!

It gets tough, frankly.  As fun as anything is, it gets to be a chore when you expect it to happen.  So, what?  Should we wait around for inspiration in trained states of non-expectancy?  Of course not.  You can’t be professional on random bursts of creative energy.  But it’s difficult to force, too, and not always the greatest.  Art is a delicate thing.

But here’s the thing: creative energy is not exclusive.  Say you burn yourself out writing a novel in two weeks.  You try to write more, but no words will come— you need a break.  The day after finishing, you cook an amazing dinner you’ve never tried before.  The next day, you doodle over an empty piece of paper.  The next day, you mess around with an online music generator or tone matrix.  A papier-mâché pony, to scale.  A new desk for your room.  Organizing your books by color, then author, then by epicness of the first page.  By the end of this, you can go back and write another novel.

What happened?  You had some creative energy left in you, despite burning yourself out on a novel.  Does that mean it was a waste, all this creation with no words to show for it?  Of course not.  Creative energy is not exclusive— it isn’t like money, to be shoved toward one thing and budgeted in the meantime.  It has a little store for everything you could possibly create.  You might use most of it on a single thing, but there are some reserves left for other activities.

Maggie Stiefvater knows this well.  She writes hard, then cooks, then writes, then draws on her basement wall, then writes, then composes music, then writes, then fixes cars, then writes.  She’s brilliantly productive because all she does is create art— even when bemoaning the absence of muffins, she’s making something to show her followers.  She creates, then creates something else, then creates something else.  She never stops, because she never runs out of that energy.

It’s the same way for normal people.  An amateur writer writes at night, then goes to work and inputs data into spreadsheets, then writes some more during lunch, then attends a meeting, then writes more, then makes dinner and writes more.  They create words, then create spreadsheets and connections and opportunities in another area, then create more words.  It’s a great lifestyle, and they almost never burn out, until they sell a book.  They quit their day job, dedicate themselves to full-time writing, and promptly stall as they attempt an eight-hour day of nonstop writing.  What’s wrong?  Surely they can write more because they have more time!  They don’t have the energy for it, since they’re used to taking breaks and creating in between writing sessions.

You are a person.  This means you create things.  You are an artist.  This means you create art on purpose.  You might be a writer, or a sculptor, or a cook.  This means you have a specific kind of art that you like to create.  Most of your energy goes toward that, but not everything can— so use the rest.  Compose music instead of drawing.  Film a short story instead of scrapbooking.  Write poetry instead of taking pictures.  Create specifically, then create widely, then create specifically.  But always create.

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41 thoughts on “What’s Important? Artist Edition

      1. Well, I procrastinated for a few days, and then…it went kind of…eh. I mean, I drew, I finished the drawing, and I didn’t throw it away, which are all good points, but it’s not a very good drawing.

      2. True, and thanks. I have been working on drawing everyday (except yesterday, which really bugs me), and although I can’t necessarily see an improvement, I can almost…feel one. If that makes any sense.

  1. Is someone working on the inspiring speeches to the masses? I certainly think this qualifies. Thanks. I needed it. I’ll try this, then, and create something else while I’m waiting for writing to stop feeling like chipping bricks into smithereens and violin to stop feeling like slicing open my fingers (or smashing my head against a wall because metronomes).

  2. This is such a wonderful post. It’s so easy to write so much that your creative energy completely drains, and that does nothing except make your next writing session even worse. I love taking breaks to do other things in between writing so I can let the inspiration build up again.

    Also, a papier-mache pony to size sounds awesome.

      1. Indeed. (Photography is one of my favorite outlets–with a digital camera set on auto, it’s less frustrating than trying to get perspective right while drawing. Also making clothes and costumes.)

      2. I need to figure out how to keep lighting balanced so everyone doesn’t look like a cheesy black-and-white villain with Emperor Palpatine shadows and a handlebar mustache. Fun stuff. -_-

      3. No, I have the same problems sometimes. And sometimes everything is too bright and washed out. Color and lighting are important.

      4. Right! And it’s important to not overdo it… unless you’re writing clutter… which, is realistic, so I tend to do it a lot… (Think 221b gone entirely mad.)

  3. I feel like a weight was lifted off my shoulders after reading this post. As a writer, musician, AND an artist, I always felt like I had too many hobbies, and that I had to pick just one and work hard on that specific one to be successful. But this made me realize that having different artistic hobbies is perfectly fine, probably even good! Excellent post!

  4. Good post. I’ve been thinking for over 24 hours how comment…

    At first, it made me feel like my creative life was boring or lacking. I mainly write, as you know. I knit or crochet. That’s really about it, creatively speaking. Cooking is only rarely an art form for me– it’s more often three or more hobbitses saying they’re hungry.

    But now I realize I fit under that category that is “normal people”. I haven’t quite figured out a balance or routine for all that life requires of me plus the stuff I “want” to do, but I still fit in that category. And as you said, I almost never burn out.

    Again, good post.

    1. That’s not lacking at all, and it’s certainly not “normal”. I used that term to refer to people who don’t consider themselves writers, or artists, or musicians, even in their spare time. For those of us with creative tendencies, we just get to multiply our creations— you write one day, you knit the next, you cook the next. Take pride in all of it, and don’t consider any of them lesser because they aren’t your main hobby, or because they’re less than other people do.

      But I’m glad you enjoyed it.

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