I am not an artist, am I?
A post by Mindy Hardwick, author of Stained Glass Summer, due to be released by Euterpe on 12/30/11.
In my upcoming Musa book, Stained Glass Summer, twelve-year old Jasmine wants desperately to be an artist. Her award winning photographer father has taught her to believe that in order to call yourself an artist, you must win awards…something he does well, and Jasmine does not do so well.
When I was writing Jasmine’s story, I thought a lot about my own experience with art. Even though I am a writer, I have never called myself an “artist.” To me, artists are people who work in the visual arts—painting, drawing, and sculpture.
In middle school, I struggled with art class. We did a lot of drawing and painting. I remember sitting at the large wood tables with six other people. I’d watch as forms and figures took shape on their pages. But, all that ever seemed to take shape on my page were stick figures. I always seemed to have this block. I could see what I wanted to draw, but I couldn’t figure out how to take that image in my head and get it onto the paper.
When I started writing, a similar process happened. I would see the story in my head. But when I sat down at the blank page, I gasped! How would I ever get that story in my head onto the page? I’ve discovered two keys which help me take my initial story idea and craft it to be a complete novel.
Flexibility: I may have an idea of how I want the story to be when I sit down to write, but I have to remain open to where the story needs to go. I can’t control or hold on too tightly to my original ideas. When I drafted the first version of Jasmine’s story, her mother was an alcoholic. I thought this was a great idea. But, when I took the story to my first semester of my Vermont College MFA in Writing for Children workshop, Ron Koertge said, “Alcoholic mothers are a dime a dozen, change it.” He went on to say that usually the first idea that comes to us is not the best. This idea is the “typical” idea. It is the idea we have seen and heard a hundred times before. Ron was right, and I took my story home and changed the story to be that Jasmine’s father is an artist and she is trying to live up to his expectations. This change still gave me the necessary ingredients I needed for plotting Jasmine’s story. Plus, the shift made the story a little less typical, but still a familiar enough plot that readers could relate.
Study the Craft of Writing: There is no way around it. I can Twitter, Facebook, and study the markets, but, in order to write the best story I can, I have to know the craft of writing. Do I understand character motive? Can I build a story where that motive drives the plot? Can I craft a setting that works with my story? And can I revise again and again and again? These are all the keys to taking that story in my head and getting it down on paper.
I may never be a painter or drawer, but as a writer, I have come to discover that like my glass artist character Jasmine, I, too, am an artist. I can take a story that comes to me as an idea and turn it into a story that others can enjoy.
Stained Glass Summer
December 30, 2011