Before I wrote regularly, I made art. My mother was an artist and art teacher, so I guess it was in my DNA. As a child, I drew stories — graphic novels without written words. As a young adult, I dabbled in a myriad of media but concentrated on photography. I bought my first “real” camera right before college graduation. In those days of film, I held my breath until the results came back as prints or slides. Along the way, I searched for my photographic “voice,” and sometimes, I produced some pretty good photos. Occasionally, someone even paid me to take photographs. I took classes (that’s where I met my husband of 25 years), but mostly I just kept taking pictures. Never a lot, just regularly over a period of time.
With the advent of digital photography (and no film to waste), I became more adventurous — seeking different angles, zooming in to the details or out to catch the entire context. Even better, I could see the results instantly and could easily delete or ignore the less than stellar shots.
Since I started writing, making art, including watercolor painting and collage, has become even more satisfying as a creative outlet. The two activities — writing and art — complement each other, using different parts of my brain. There are similarities, of course. In both, I use my imagination, decide on the focus, compose a story, and choose appropriate details. Both are engrossing and give me an opportunity to temporarily escape from my routines and obligations.
But they are very different as well. Novel writing is a labor intensive, deliberate, and often lonely pursuit, despite my supportive writing community. It requires hours of sitting. In contrast, for me photography is an outgrowth of my other activities, especially travel, where I have the company of my photographer husband and can be physically active. When painting, I may be in a class or workshop setting or with a friend. In addition, in producing visual art, I tend to be more spontaneous and to follow my intuition. I complete most works within a couple of hours, usually in one sitting or after letting a few ideas jell in my brain overnight. When the work is finished, I know it’s finished. And I’m content, not always uncritical, but content, like a child who has just dashed off a finger painting.
Best of all, I can display my best creations or give them to others. Each year, I choose one of my favorite photos from the past year and make holiday cards for my friends and family. Many a time I’ve visited a friend to see one of my ancient photo cards still on the mantle. Voila! External approval and gratification with no marketing on my part. But if no one but me sees it or likes it, that’s okay, too.
In contrast, after months (or years) of writing a first draft of a novel, what follows are critiques, endless revisions, fine tooth editing, and proofreading before one can approach those in the publishing end of the business with the hope that someone will even read a piece of it. Then the rejection letters start coming, sometimes months after the initial query letter. Self doubt bubbles up. What I thought was good once now seems impossibly wrong. What could I have been thinking? Renewed scrutiny of the manuscript. More revisions. I can tell myself that the real accomplishment is completing such a mammoth project or that it is all about the journey, not the destination. But, as writers, I think most of us hunger for publication, for our work to be appreciated by others. Unlike art, we can’t hang it on the wall and admire it. I could write short fiction, even flash fiction, which might be more equivalent to my quickly produced art works. I’ve tried that route, but it’s not where my heart is at as a writer, any more than sculpting or oil painting is for me as a self-described artist.
So, I am glad I have my art and my self-delusions about it. I can still create even when I can’t face my novel. Maybe for me making art is an escape back to the womb where I feel safe and free from my own self-judgment and the judgment of others. But keeping those creative juices flowing may be just what I need to leap back into that world of the would-be novelist.
In the meantime, there is also this blog — a vehicle to an actual audience. I wrote, edited, and proofread this entry myself (with a little help from my husband). It came from my heart and didn’t take all that long. It looks professional up there on the screen, thanks to the wizardry of our Dead Darlings editors. Most importantly, it allows me to believe, if just for a moment, that I am a writer.