I’ve had some deep conversations with a good friend and fellow author about what makes writing so hard. The conversations have made me stop and think about my process and what gets me all jammed up and unable to write. This is similar to a post I wrote earlier about “getting out of your way” only with a clear example of what can happen when you do.
These conversations ran parallel to my other creative journey of drawing. I recently started taking lessons from a phenomenal retired art teacher. I took up drawing as something else to do for fun and as another creative outlet. But, of course, I slammed into the same frustrations with drawing as I do with writing. A few things emerged from me digging into why.
I grabbed this fake flower to practice drawing a “real life” 3-D image. Using fake flowers is okay for this kind of practice because living flowers tend to wilt faster and this fake one is still very complex. The idea is to focus on what I see and drawing what I see. It’s also important for me to use 3-D to get the shading and textures, as opposed to using a flattened 2-D picture to draw from. (Hang with me, authors, I’m going somewhere with this!)
Long story short, I gave up drawing the flower. It took me some time to realize why. My brain was screaming at me the entire time to make a perfect replica of this extremely complex flower … as a beginner. I wasn’t drawing what I saw, I was trying to draw the perfect imagine of the flower my brain was telling me to draw. Two very different things, which took me a while to sort out, so it’s okay if reading that phrase made you confused. I walked away feeling unhappy, unsatisfied with my progress, and like a failure.
At the same time, my friend was talking to me about some of the doubts that creep into her mind while she tries to write.
I believe as authors we also have this PERFECT idea/scene/character in our head and we get all jammed up and angry when the perfect replica doesn’t magically appear before our eyes as we write. It’s enough to stop us in our tracks. We are mad at ourselves for something somewhere being lost in transit and the image/writing before us falls short from our expectations.
Just a few weeks later, I went back to lessons with my teacher, the first since the holidays. I was so distressed and a ball of frustration, thinking I’d never be able to tackle anything like the complexity of that flower. With her patient guidance and instruction, the first lesson back we focused on my boot. It was a good way to chisel off some of the frustration and a good reminder of the steps it takes to draw. So the next lesson I brought the flower that nearly ended my desire to draw.
Through her patient guidance, I drew the best drawing I’ve ever done to date. And here’s what I learned along the way that applies to both drawing and writing … and really any other creative journey.
- Be patient with yourself
- It’s not supposed to be torture! (a slightly modified version of what my author friend told me)
- There are steps … follow them and enjoy the process
- Learn from your mistakes, don’t let them stop you
- Do not compare yourself to anyone or anything else
- Perfection is boring (stolen from my sister)
Once I relaxed and allowed my teacher to guide me through the steps, I let go of what my brain was SCREAMING at me to draw, and really looked at the flower. The imperfect petals. The way the shadows shaped it. How pretty it was.
And it does take steps! Have you ever watched an artist start out their portraits with an oval? On some social medias, artists are putting little videos of their progress and it’s so fun to watch. It’s amazing to see it all come together. There are times when it looks like a bunch of random lines, or like a mess! But imagine if they got all jammed up and impatient and stopped as soon as they thought it wasn’t perfect enough. It’s a process of blocking, contour lines, shading, and then going further and further down into the details.
So is writing. Writing is a process of steps. Those steps are in the editing process. I wrote more about specific editing tips here in an earlier blog, I don’t want to get too caught up here.
Okay, that drawing won’t make it in a New York Art Gallery, but just look at the difference between that one and the one I gave up on. I promise you, these drawings are only a few weeks apart and I was not steadily practicing in between. In fact, I mostly was mad and didn’t want to keep drawing.
Do you know what the biggest difference was? I told myself to SHUT UP. Shut up with the criticism. Shut up with idea of perfection. Shut up with the comparisons to other artists I know who could render that flower perfectly in half time. Shut up, shut up, shut up!
I did not write this post just as a way to brag about what I could do. I want you to see what YOU have the potential to do … if you could just find a way to tell your negative self to go take a hike while you work.
I can’t give you a more clear example than those two pictures. Both drawn by me, only a few weeks apart. The only difference was a patient teacher next to me encouraging me to shut the critic up.
You can do it. You absolutely can!