Thursday, April 18, 2013

Writers as Artists?

Bas relief from Mamallapuram, India

When we first moved to Colorado, we rented a tiny studio apartment while we went house-hunting. One evening, our landlords invited us up for a glass of wine and some conversation. She is a sculptor who works primarily in stone. She mentioned that it was interesting that we were both artists.

Frankly, I'd never considered myself an artist, but we discussed our creative processes. There's an old saying that in order to carve a block of stone into an elephant, you simply chip away everything that doesn't look like an elephant. In writing, you keep adding until you get the elephant.

If writing were like sculpting, it would mean being able to change what comes next, but not what came before. Scary. Really scary. I mean, I know authors who sell on synopsis, but when they write the book, it's all different. As long as it's good, there's usually no problem.

When the sculptor asked how I created a book, what my preparation process was, did I outline the plot, or develop the characters, I answered that I knew very little when I first started writing.

She said she worked the same way. She might have a very simple sketch—no more than a line drawing, when she started, and a vague idea of the finished product, but the actual sculpture was dictated by the stone. She starts working and lets the stone show her the way.

That sounds very much like my own writing style. I joked about how my characters were always surprising me, and that the discovery was as much fun as the final product. On that, we were in total agreement.

But imagine if you started writing your book and couldn't go back to fix things. Once you chip away that piece of marble, it's gone and you can't reattach it to the sculpture. I don't think there is such a thing as a 'first draft' for her. Some artists might make models first, using a different, "less valuable" kind of medium, but she likes to get right to it.

I remember going to a RWA chapter meeting, and as we shared where we were with our writing since the last meeting, one woman said, "I'm on Chapter 30 and have only 5 chapters left to go." I was flabbergasted. How did she know what was going to go into each chapter, and that much in advance? How did she know her book was going to be 35 chapters long? My last book ended up going on for about 4 chapters more after I was writing what I thought would be the final chapter. And my editor asked me to expand. Glad I wasn't a sculptor!


What's your writing style? Discover as you go? Outline? Do you know your entire book's structure, including how many chapters, before you start?

Terry Odell is the author of numerous romantic suspense novels, mystery novels, as well as contemporary romance short stories. Most of her books are available in both print and digital formats. She’s the author of the Blackthorne, Inc. series, steamy romantic suspense novels featuring a team of covert ops specialists, the Pine Hills Police series, set in a small Oregon town, and the Mapleton Mystery series, featuring a reluctant police chief in a small Colorado town. To see all her books, visit her website. You can also find her at her blog, Terry's Place, as well as follow her on Twitter, or visit her Facebook page.

16 comments :

  1. Terry,
    Thanks for sharing your insight. Writers who view edits and rewrites as chores now have a way to see them as the privileges they are. Kathy

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  2. Kathy -- those of us who are writers have to accept and embrace all aspects of the craft. If we can't, we're probably not writers. True, we might embrace some of these tasks with less enthusiasm than others, but they're all part of the process.
    Terry
    Terry's Place

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  3. In addition to writing, I've been known to dabble in painting (pictures and houses), jewelry design, furniture building, sewing, crochet, website design, graphic art, and digital scrapbooking. When I don't feel like writing, I spend time on other creative tasks which seems to reprime the pump. The first time you try anything is often cringe-worthy. I tend to jump in and learn as I go rather than listen to lectures. When I hit snags then I research how I can avoid them next time. Some of the earlier pieces of furniture I built were hilarious - and unsafe! Whatever your artistic medium, don't be afraid to fail or get your hands dirty!

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  4. Terrific post, Terry. I love the way you paralleled the two artistic expressions. I have a good friend who is a sculptor, and we have often discussed the connections between all artistic endeavors.

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  5. Diana, I tell people I started writing when I ran out of room for needlepoint. I needed some sort of creative outlet (although it took a lot longer to learn how to write than it did to learn needlepoint!)

    Maryann - as Diana said, there's a creativity factor no matter whether we're writing, painting, or making music.

    Terry
    Terry's Place

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  6. I'm a mind-mapper when it comes to planning. I'm also a professional artist, and find writing and drawing/painting to be extremely different processes. I can't work on two projects at the same time. It's either visual art or writing. That's why I have my husband working on book covers and illustrations for my writing. The only thing I can relate to both experiences is being "in the flow" when I'm really creatively engaged. That time lapse feels pretty much the same. Good and thought-provoking post, Terry.

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  7. I'm kind of a baker and a sculptor. In the early drafts I'm a baker, mixing up the great big batch of words that will be my medium, letting it rest so embedded ideas can arise, punching it down, repeat. Once I'm sure the medium has revealed its story I start sculpting away the unneeded bits until I see the final form. It's not a fast process, but it feels right to me!

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  8. Dani - I know what you mean about one's brain only able to follow one kind of project (or one project, period) at a time. I've been busy getting Rooted in Danger ready for release this weekend, and that's soaked up all my writing juices.

    Terry
    Terry's Place

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  9. Kathryn - that's such an important point. We all find what works for us and go with it. And we have to remember that the process can evolve. What works for one book might not work for the next.

    Terry
    Terry's Place

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  11. My son composes music. He also edits, as well as writes with sufficient ability that he received a D- on a writing assignment in the sixth grade because the teacher thought he had copied a professionally written work. Only after I went to the school to validate his claim that he had, indeed, written the story on his own did the teacher change his grade to the A he had rightfully earned.

    I have a grandson and granddaughter (siblings) who both write and draw quite well. The girl is also a talented songwriter, even though she has never had a music lesson. Other children and grandchildren, too, have demonstrated multiple talents in the arts. I wonder how far their abilities might take them if they had the appropriate training.

    This is a great post, Terry. And I like Kathy's observation that rewriting portions of our work is a privilege rather than a chore. This positive mindset might make the "privilege" a lot more appreciated.

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  12. But I do knit through everything - creative work, I guess, though relatively mindless. It's interesting that knitting is one of the few processes in which I love every part from casting on to hiding loose threads - especially socks. Pity I can't make a living at it. Now that would be bliss. :D

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  13. Knitting is something I wish I could do. I have friends who knit such beautiful pieces, and I'm in awe of anyone who has this talent. It's definitely creative, Dani, and probably not as mindless as you think, for it requires a vision of the finished product, just as does a book or painting.

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  14. I can guess at how long one of my books will be, but have no idea until it's done if my guess was correct. I like going along for the ride and not knowing exactly what's happening until it happens.

    Morgan Mandel
    http://www.morganmandel.com

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  15. For me it is the uncertainty that is the most challenging aspect of writing. The challenge is knowing when to start, forcing myself to keep going even if I don't know where I'm going after the next sentence.

    Your blog reminded me of something I believe we too often overlook--writers and artists have a lot to say to each other, and we have a lot to learn from each other.

    Thanks for the post.

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  16. Morgan - I seem to fall into that 90-100,000 word count even though I've tried to finish up at about 85K. That seems to be about how long it takes me to tell the tale, although I don't plan it that way.

    Susan - my 'cheat' for that problem is to have 2 POV characters so I can abandon one while I figure out what's going on, meanwhile writing the other scene. But I confess sometimes it takes several days before things 'click'.

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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