How writing is like artwork

Since I’ve gotten back into my artwork, I’ve discovered a number of telling parallels between writing and artwork. These two types of creating aren’t that different at their essential core.

1. Sometimes you need a large canvas, while other projects require something smaller. One book may be perfect at novella-size, just as some pictures work best on a 9″ x 12″ page. Another book may need over a thousand pages to be told properly, just as there are some pictures which can only be done justice with a wall-sized canvas.

2. You shouldn’t try to write in every single genre or style, just as you shouldn’t try to work with every single type of medium. There are certainly some writers who excel at writing across numerous genres, just as there are some artists who are great with numerous media. However, ultimately, you’re going to want to settle on a few which really speak to you. That’s not to say you shouldn’t ever try your hand at something new, like a mystery writer branching out into fantasy, a poet writing in traditional prose, or a pastelist experimenting with oil paints. It just means most people find their talents and interests concentrated in a select few areas.

3. The genre or style you once loved may no longer speak to you as you evolve and develop in your craft. I used to be a primarily marker-based artist in the pictures I made outside of art classes, but now I create with colored pencils, pastels, and watercolor pencils. When it comes to writing, I used to be all about 18th and 19th century historical, and wrote a fair amount of first-person stories. Now I live and breathe 20th century historical and third-person omniscient. It doesn’t mean your former interests were bad, just that it’s natural for our tastes to change.

4. Great work is never achieved through rushing. Even if you’re working with a deadline, you can still find a normal, natural pace that doesn’t sacrifice quality and details.

5. Experience is a great teacher. All the critiques in the world can never take the place of continuing to create over a long time. If we’re growing as writers or artists, we naturally mature and improve in our craft. It’s one thing to be told early efforts aren’t so up to snuff, but the hindsight and perspective which only come with time can help us to understand why those early efforts didn’t work. Based on our newfound maturity and skill, we know how to fix older projects, and recognize them as not ready for primetime.

6. Constructive critique shouldn’t force you to sacrifice your own voice and vision. Unless you’ve specifically asked someone exactly how to rewrite something or how to start all over again with a picture, you don’t want to follow all these suggestions to the letter. Let’s say your critiquer would’ve put the tree on the left side of the canvas or set the story on Mars instead of a space colony near Jupiter. Great! Then s/he can write a story set on Mars or paint a picture with a tree on the left!

7. Develop your own voice and style, don’t just copy someone else’s or follow trends for their own sake. You may start out writing in a hot genre or copying someone else’s photographs or paintings. That’s great for getting your feet wet, but ultimately, you want to find your own interests and strengths. That never comes from being a mindless copycat. Maybe you love third-person past tense, even if the trend right now is for first-person present tense. Perhaps you feel called towards abstract art, even if your teachers and friends are all doing landscapes and portraits.

8. There are lots of tools in your palette, but you don’t have to use the same ones other people do, nor should you over-rely on some while ignoring others. If a tool wasn’t meant to be used, it wouldn’t exist. I don’t get why so many modern writers think adverbs, passive voice, speaking verbs beyond “asked” and “said,” and telling when need be are evil. It’s just a matter of knowing when and how to use them properly. It’s the same way with how I tend to use a lot of blues, greens, oranges, purples, and reds, but sometimes I have to balance things out with a pink, grey, yellow, or brown. Using 50 adverbs and 100 non-standard speaking verbs every 10 pages looks as lazy as only painting with blue or green.

9. Treat your work with respect. Don’t just keep your manuscripts or finished drawings carelessly heaped on the floor. Back up your work, keep your print-outs and sketchbooks in a secure place, have your artwork framed, make sure your disks, CDs, and flash drives are stored away from heat and light. (Yes, I still have a lot of original files on disks, as well as an external disk drive. They still open after all these years.)

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4 thoughts on “How writing is like artwork

  1. I’ve always believed writing is like artwork. The words we write in our stories are like brushstrokes with a paintbrush. I also personally believe in writing in different genres because you can learn so much about writing by trying someone new. Just like writers should try reading books in other genres. But we all do settle with a specific genre or genres that we work with best. I’ve dabbled in western and sci-fi, but romantic-suspense and supernatural-thrillers are my specialty.

    All of your advice is great, Carrie-Anne!

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