I found a wonderful article titled, How to Be an Artist, According to Georgia O’Keeffe, written for Artsy by Alexxa Gotthardt.
The article had this great quote by Georgia O’Keeffe: “Great artists don’t just happen, any more than writers, or singers, or other creators,” she continued. “They have to be trained, and in the hard school of experience.”
Often you’ll hear people talk about nature vs. nurture when it comes to being a creative, the arguments flying back and forth that the greats are born that way versus the greats made themselves great with a lot of hard work. Personally, I think you have to have at least a nugget of talent, somewhere around your left pinkie toe (you know, the one the bed and various other pieces of fiendish furniture make sure you stub), and with that nugget, the passion for it, the drive to pursue it. Without that passion, it would be too easy to give up, walk away, convince yourself that your creativity is a wonderful outlet, but not something to work, sweat, bleed, and cry for on a daily basis.
With that passion, you can hang on, persevere until you reach the pinnacle. Not that the pinnacle is a stopping point. No, I think when you reach one peak in your life, there’s another one waiting that you didn’t see until you reached the top. A Mount Everest climber’s nightmare. I think being a creative means always discovering more about yourself, about the human condition, about our place in the world. Because, for me, that is what the best writing does: it gives me a window into lives that are like our own, or, not like ours at all. Either way, we are richer for spending our lives expanding what we understand the world around us; we are more compassionate when we strive to understand the people around us.
The author goes on to list four lessons gleaned from O’Keeffe’s interviews and letters that all artists can use to cultivate the creative inside you.
Lesson #1: Observe the world around you—closely, hungrily
This one I already do, though, granted, it’s more difficult to be around people right now. But the idea is important for writers. I’ve always been a watcher of people, animals and nature, because they do the darndest things, and because the world is beautiful and ugly, simple and complicated. There is a depth and breadth of knowing that can be found just by watching the world when it is wrapped in solitude, or amidst a throng. All of it fodder for your writing.
Lesson #2: Organization is key to productivity
The article talks about O’Keeffe’s organization of materials and her studio, of cards of information about the colors used in her paintings, and about her daily routine. All things that important for an artist. For my writing, I take this to mean multiple things. Foremost, for the books I’m a plantser: a cross between a plotter (plot points, spreadsheets, note cards about every scene) and a pantser (writing by the seat of my pants). Being a plantser is what works for me, but every writer needs to organize at the level that works best for them. I do believe that having at least a skeleton of a plot can be a huge help to keep you on track, to prevent the sagging middle, and provide a tight relationship between your beginning and your ending, thus making both stronger, more impactful to the reader.
I like to have the story’s opening scene, inciting incident, the first, second and third turning points, the black moment, and the realization. I also have a character grid (long and short-range goals, character flaw, relationship barrier) filled out for the protagonist, antagonist, villain, and secondary characters. This helps me braid the emotional impacts the characters have on each other.
Outside of the story, organizing your book covers, interiors, blurb, taglines, urls, etc. all in one document for every book is a huge timesaver as you write more and more books. It’s too easy to lose files if you don’t have a central file. Trust me, I learned this the hard way.
Lesson #3: Don’t sweat mistakes—learn from them
Oh, boy, is this ever true. We all make mistakes; it’s how we learn throughout all stages of our lives. What’s important is you must forgive yourself when you do make mistakes, learn from them, and move on. Also, don’t be afraid to ask. The writing community that I know is incredibly generous with their insight, but you have to reach out.
Lesson # 4: Pay no attention to trends—be yourself
So, I must say at the start that this lesson may or may not work for you as a writer. Many writers track trends and tailor their books in service of that trend with great success. If you are a fast writer who can take advantage of the shifting desires of readers, do it. If you’re a slower writer like me, following the trends doesn’t work. You have to be able to turn on a dime and produce content fast enough to capture the moment, then turn again when interests shift.
There can be a cost though for chasing the trends, burnout being number one. I could probably write faster and take advantage of what’s popular, but personally, I wouldn’t be happy. I’m writing the books that are in my head, while being cognizant of what people are buying over time. So, you do you. Just make sure that what you are creating is also nurturing your soul. That is the way to feed the passion inside you so you can be a creative for a lifetime.
Do you have lessons that you want to share, about writing or other forms of creativity?
May your words flow freely,
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