Tuesday 21 December 2010

Warning: excessive use of the pronoun "I" in this post.

I sometimes think that it would be much easier to be solely a writer, or solely a visual artist.  All of my time, energy, and attention could be focused on that one thing.  But I’m not: as much as I have tried to choose one over the other I can’t, I’m just not wired that way. 

It’s further complicated since within each of these spheres there are sub-categories: under writing there are works of long fiction, short fiction, and poems, writing for adults and for children; under visual art there are large abstracts in oil, and small collages with black ink drawings.
I need and love the interplay and cross-pollination between these different creative forms, but at times it can leave me feeling uncomfortably pulled in different directions.  When working on one thing, I’ll suddenly find one of the others clamouring for my attention:  I’ll be working on the manuscript for my middle grade story when a character will come across a plant I want to use in an ink drawing; or I’ll be working on a collage and want to apply something I’ve discovered there to an oil painting; or I’ll be painting and find my thoughts drifting to the character in one of the short stories on my plate and realize that he should actually be a she.  

While this is often productive, it can also feel as though there’s a ferret doing a tango in my head and I end up not being able to concentrate on, or to do anything at all.  

At these times, and they can last a few hours, or a few days, I sometimes get so frustrated that I occasionally question the whole ruddy creative pursuit and wonder whether I should just pack it all in – all of it -- and look for a proper job somewhere and spend my spare time watching TV and doing Sudoku puzzles. 
But I can’t.  There’s nothing I’d rather be doing and I feel grateful for it, no matter how confounding it can sometimes be, and no matter how little financial sense it might make.  (And, God knows, it’s not about making financial sense.  Very few of us creative types are unfamiliar with the sound of the wolf poking its snuffling snout under the front door.)        

For me, it is about both faith in art and love of the process.  The other day on her endlessly inspiring blog, Terri Windling referred to a Jeanette Winterson quote.  In it, Winterson talks about “every work of art being an act of faith, or we wouldn’t bother to do it.”   
What I keep coming back to, or rather what keeps me coming back, is the sheer joy in the process of creating and the firm belief that it is, somehow, important. 

One thing I've recently had to work on is to better structure my working time.  It's difficult when deadlines are not externally imposed, but deadlines are vital so I've started to write up a schedule for myself - with short term and longer term projects given arbitrary deadlines.  I also have a box of index cards where I keep information about the submission dates for various magazines and journals.  I'm going to put together another box with information about art galleries and restaurants that display art and other opportunities for showing my paintings and collages.  

The other thing which I need to work on is having the discipline not to give in to what may seem like a productive sidetracking from the thing I'm working on, but which is actually a diabolically well disguised bit of procrastination.  "You hoo!  Over here!  It's me, your manuscript.  Put down that paintbrush and come change the colour of your protagonist's eyes."  I  Must learn when I'm being distracted by something that really matters, and when it's just, well, distraction. 

In light of all of this, and perhaps in lieu of having any better ending up my sleeve today, I'll draw this post to a close and get back to my paintbox.

Happy Solstice.  


  1. I so understand. I am not an artist ... I would consider painting and drawing something I do as a hobby. So I'm focused on writing. But within writing, there's so much - it's difficult for me to focus on one thing alone. I write poetry, YA fantasy, picture books, screenplays, nonfic ... and I feel that tug you're speaking of myself.

    Your gargoyles are darling.

  2. That's so true, Em. It seems that within each artistic/creative pursuit there are - or certainly can be - so many different directions and paths. I'm sure that even someone who sticks just to novels, for example, can become overwhelmed by the sheer number of ideas for characters, plot, setting and all of that.

    You mentioned screenplays and picture books - those are two areas that I've never ventured into (they both totally intimidate me!)

    The gargoyles followed me home from my last trip to England. For the most part they're well behaved.

  3. You're so right. It's so alternate universe. All these different ways one can go and (usually) the ability to see where they'll all lead. Makes me understand the desire behind the Choose Your Own Story books.

    I think everything's intimidating until you try it. For me, it's writing music. I haven't done it enough to lose the intimidation factor there. I'm quite new at screenplays, but have enjoyed the learning process with them. Admittedly, living in Los Angeles, it's only a matter of time before one writes a screenplay if you're a writer. I think there's something in the water.

  4. gan good job, this article is very interesting to note, cool deh,, of course we have new insights that we get after reading it, thanx yah :-)

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