Tag Archive | art

A Writer’s Toughest Critic

I was at the grocery store the other day running some errands, and as I was browsing through turkey bags and potato chips I decided to make a run through the book section.

Not to browse through and find something I actually wanted to read, mind you.  Since I’m readying to publish my first book, I decided to check out my book’s competition.

I know, I know.  It’s totally shallow of me.  I also ate three no-bake cookies that morning with breakfast.  I was having a very human day.

But the reasoning of checking out said books was more of a confidence check for myself, since I’m being completely honest.  I don’t expect my books (when they are published) to be anywhere near the bestseller list when they come out, because hey – let’s be realistic…I’m a relatively unknown author – but I was having a moment of self-doubt and needed reassurance.  I wanted to see if my books, my writing style, was good enough to enter the wonderful world of fiction.

I’m about to enter a market where a lot of talented people work and thrive.  I’m a little fish jumping into the ocean thinking I can swim with whales.

And since I have two betta fish at home, I can only imagine how they’d be in the ocean.  They’d be terrified (especially when they find out there’s no fish flakes in the Atlantic.)

So I went to the book section and started browsing.  I wanted to see if my writing ability could be on par with other authors.  I picked up a thriller, opened the pages, and settled on the first chapter to read.

To my surprise, the chapter was okay.  The writing style wasn’t to my personal taste and it was filled with adjectives with every other word, but I found myself thinking, “Huh.  Well I think my writing might at least be on this level.  Maybe even better.”

I put it back and picked up another book of general fiction.  When I opened and read, I found the writing style eloquent, fancy, and highly intellectual.  Whoever wrote the book was a master of grammar and voice.  It was no surprise this was on the bestseller shelf.

Yep…that author was way better than me.  My book was surely doomed.

But as I kept on browsing, picking up a few different genres like action, young adult, and romance, I found myself seeing something unique about all the writers.  The way they shaped their words wasn’t explicitly bad or good…it was just…different.  I found myself questioning the very notion of what I considered “good writing”.  I limited it to one style, highly detailed and highly perfect, and I figured that if my writing didn’t match up to what I considered “good writing” (or what I was taught “good writing” to be), then my own writing was terrible.

After reading through the various books, however, I realized my writing was just like the other authors’.  It’s not bad, it’s not good.  It’s just different…unique.

I left the book section that morning with a change of mind.  I went in worrying if my books were going to be “good enough” for people to read, but I left realizing that my books are as good as I see them to be.  No matter how unique the style is, someone, somewhere will like it (just as someone, somewhere won’t.)  As authors, none of us write the same.  We all have different voices and different styles that can reach a broad audience.  And yet that’s what makes writing so beautiful.  It’s diverse, full of different voices and styles to appeal to everyone, coming together as one broad voice known as literature.

I learned a lesson that day in the grocery store – a lesson I already knew but never really took to heart.  My toughest critic isn’t the reader, nor is it the reviewer.  It’s myself.  I’ve been the one who has been thinking my writing needed improvement.  I’ve been the one who said my work wasn’t good enough.

That isn’t to say it hasn’t needed improvement.  I’ve learned some lessons over the years that has helped my writing get better, and the constructive criticism I’ve received has been extremely beneficial.  But constructive criticism aside, I learned I needed to stop being so hard on myself.  Stop comparing, stop self-criticizing, stop worrying.  I need to be my biggest supporter, not my greatest enemy.

As creators, it’s easy to become perfectionists in our work.  It’s also easy for us to be bogged down by insecurity or fear of not being good enough.  Whether it’s in creating story or creating art, talent comes in many shapes and forms, but it isn’t talent that purely grows success.  There’s another important ingredient, something that can even overshadow talent.  It’s confidence-confidence in our work, confidence in ourselves, and confidence that we can do anything we put our mind to, as long as we work hard and believe.

How Writing Is Like A Dress

In continuation of last weekend’s post on comparing writing to driving, I thought I’d make another comparison today:

Writing is like a dress.

Yes, there are plenty of comparisons.  Dresses are pretty-writing is pretty.  Dresses are made-stories are made.  Dresses get stuffed in a closet, books get stuffed on a shelf.

Okay, maybe that last comparison was for me, but only because I’m a pack rat.

But the previous comparisons, though true, are not the object of the comparison I wish to give today.

About a week ago I was browsing the internet and came across an article from a writer addressed to aspiring writers who needed advice on how to write a good book.  A list appeared below the introduction, and as I glanced at the suggestions provided, I found myself feeling, well…a little ignorant, I guess…because many of the suggestions the writer said not to do was something I did as a writer.  This included using certain common words and analogies that I had often thought (and heard) were signs of “good” writing.

Don’t get me wrong-the article’s writer did offer good advice.  Many of the points made were valid.  But as I looked at this list of “do’s and don’t’s”, it made me wonder if there really is a right way or a wrong way to write.

If we look at art-say, for instance, painting-artists create their work in a variety of different ways.  Some paint exactly what they see in photographic quality.  Some paint a blurred version or maybe use different colors to convey meaning.  Others may paint shapes and lines that are abstract that may not look like what it’s based on, but if you study it closely it conveys the essence of the object or scene being painted and adds a new level of understanding to it.  Art-specifically painting in this example-has no “one size fits all” technique.  There is no single correct way to paint a picture.  There’s a variety of ways, whether it’s in the style or the utensils used, to create a work of art.  It all depends on the artist.

I think the same applies to writing.  Yes, there are some rules of thumb that you must follow in writing, such as in grammar and spelling (although even that can be played with, depending on your style).  But like painting, and like a dress, their is no “one size fits all” way to write.  For some writers, they may use a lot of dialogue.  Others may use rhyme or rhythm.  Still others may use wording techniques that others may deem grammatically incorrect.  Writing styles, like art, contain variety, all based on what the creator does.

Could you imagine if there was only one size available for a dress?  Most of the ladies would only wear shirts and pants because if only one size was available, that dress would only appeal to a small amount of people.  For writing, if all stories carried the same style, only a few readers would truly want to read it.  It would only appeal to a small audience and would limit the choices of where the audience could get a good story.

In short: variety is good (at least that’s my opinion).  It allows us, the artists or writers, to be creative and imaginative in our ways of bringing story to the world.

It also allows shopping for clothes to be a much more pleasant experience.

The Story in Art

I admit I don’t have an eye for art.

Not that I don’t appreciate it…or love it…or do it, really.  I was a fine arts minor in college, so art has always been a hobby and joy of mine.

But when it comes to interpreting art, I fail miserably.

My mom and I recently went to an art museum where we got to see pieces from throughout history.  My favorite pieces were (and always have been) Italian Renaissance and 18th Century.  I even got giddy when I saw the old Benjamin West painting I did a report on as a junior.  Pieces from this time period often reflected common themes or stories from literature or mythology.  There was a painting of Cleopatra in Renaissance-style dress.  There was a scene from the Book of Judith.  There was a portrait of a member of the Medici family and her son.  For me, these pieces offered a simple interpretation.  It’s a picture of a person, it’s a specific scene from a story.  It’s plain and simple.  It’s a picture-nice and pretty and incredibly painted.  I don’t really see much of else.

But then there’s my mom.  She has this uncanny way of looking at a painting and being able to create this huge, mega-philosophical meaning to it.  You could show her a picture of an empty cardboard box and somehow she’d come up with a phrase that would be the inspiration for a Hallmark movie.

As we were going through this gallery of old paintings, she stopped in front of a Flemish piece from the 17th century.  There was a picture of a book, a skull, a quill of ink, an hourglass, a flower vase, and a few other items that I can’t remember.  She waved at me to join her at this painting, saying, “Wow-look at this!  This one’s really detailed!  There’s so much meaning to it.”

I looked at it for a moment in silence at this brilliant Flemish piece that depicted one of the common themes from that time period.  And being the knowledgeable fine arts minor that I am, I spoke my educated opinion to my mother.

“I don’t get it.”

My mom gave a chuckle as I asked for her explanation.  “It tells a story.” She said, pointing out the different objects.  “Look at the hourglass.  It’s telling a story that we have a certain time on this earth-birth to death.  Now look at the ink and book.  That’s the story of your life being written down-and you’re the writer!  It can be anything you want it to be.  Now look at the skull.  That’s a symbol of death.  But look at the flower vase near it.  It’s telling a story that even though there’s death, life can still be beautiful just like those flowers.”

I nodded, it all starting to make sense.

It was only a few minutes later that she looked at an abstract piece full of squiggles and circles and told how the painting represented life and chaos and sunlight.  (I still thought the painting looked like a stop light with a bunch of squiggles, but I’ll stick with her interpretation over mine.)

But even though my limited, art-interpretation-deficient mind can’t seem to find the story in a simple picture, I think my mom is right.  A picture-whether it’s a painting or photograph or drawing or print-tells a story.  But just like a story we read or watch, it’s interpretation is up to us.  One person can look at a piece of art and find it to be just a pretty picture, but to another person, it can take a whole new meaning.  It can be a source of hope, joy, or despair.  It can bring laughter or sorrow.  It can connect us to the past or give us a glimpse of the future.

Just like a book, a picture can tell a story.  But the meaning is up to you.