We writers – when we discuss our work and our process at all – tend to restrict said discussion to other writers.
After all, who else could possibly understand our unique brand of crazy? How can anyone genuinely comprehend, for example, the compulsion to sit up in the dead of the night and scribble down a story idea unless s/he too has endured the utter frustration of greeting the morning with forgotten inspiration?
Artists of other disciplines (e.g. painters, musicians, actors, etc.), while themselves not fully cognizant of what it means to be a narrative writer, might come pretty darn close to understanding us.
Artists imitate other each
The three of us gathered in Dawn’s home, which also serves as her studio and an informal gallery of her work. Surrounded by her vibrant, evocative, impressionist landscapes, and immediately put at ease by her warm humble, manner, we proceeded to discuss a number of points of commonality between writers and painters:
- Plotters and pantsers
I explained this foreign terminology to Dawn and was excited to learn that such distinctions exist amongst painters as well.
In explaining “plotter painters”, Dawn used the example of wildlife artists, who tend to be quite premeditated about such things as the body position of the animal subject, the viewer’s perspective, and the use of light and shadow. They also tend to take numerous high-quality photographs of their subjects from numerous angles to help inform their artistic decisions.
Meanwhile, other types of painters may approach the canvas with only a general idea of what they wish to create and perhaps a hasty pencil sketch or two, discovering further possibilities as they progress through the piece.
- Working outside of one’s creative environment
At the beginning of August, Dawn was interviewed by CBC Radio Windsor and asked to produce a painting in the studio over a two-hour time slot.
She expressed to me the difficulties she experienced working outside of her usual creative environment: she was subject to unexpected interruptions as the radio host checked in on her progress, plus constant, distracting chatter of the ongoing program piping through her headset. At one point, she feared she’d be unable to work under such conditions at all!
I’ve echoed these same sentiments in my tongue-in-cheek (yet wholly serious) post about why I don’t write in coffee shops.
(Dawn did ultimately complete the painting in the allotted time, and her accomplishment inspired me to step out of my own comfort zone and attempt (and mostly succeed at) writing on the plane during my return flight to Vancouver.)
- Good work habits and rituals
I asked Dawn how she plans her days and discovered that she schedules (and sticks to!) her painting sessions just like I schedule (and mostly stick to; there’s always room for improvement) my writing sessions.
We also spoke about creative rituals – the cup of tea, the certain music, the particular paint-spattered clothing – and their importance in helping an artist ascend into the “zone” faster and more thoroughly.
Art is (your) life
Hanging out with other types of artists can also be great for a writer’s self esteem.
When writers encounter each other, there’s a certain jockeying for prominence that occurs: How long have your been writing? How many novels have you written? Plotter or pantser? Have you published anything? Traditional or self-publishing? Etc.
This type of judgement is far less likely from artists not intimately familiar with the writing process. Dawn was fascinated to hear about my novel’s plot even though I’ve never published anything, am only on my second attempt at writing a novel, and my first attempt was a complete (and uncompleted) train wreck.
Likewise, when Dawn informed me that she’s a self-taught painter and that her classically-trained peers have long employed tools and techniques she’s only more recently learned about, all I could focus on was the beauty of her work hanging on the walls around me.
Writers are often reluctant to think of themselves as artists. Writing is the only branch of the arts in which novice practitioners feel compelled to qualify themselves as “aspiring” even when they’re already doing the work.
By spending time with others types of artists – by coming to recognize the similarities that all artists share as members of a unified tribe – a writer can come to feel more like an artist in his/her own right.