Artsy Stuff and Learning Curves

Hello lovely writers!  Today’s post includes fanart, a poorly-drawn graph, and some rambling about learning to be a writer.  Hope you enjoy!

Long before I was a writer, I was an artist.  (Not necessarily a good one lol.)  I’ve been making things since I was a really little kid.  I’ve been drawing horses and dogs for as long as I can remember, and I’ve taken art classes since I was in middle school.  I’ve always enjoyed the feeling of accomplishment when I finish something I’m proud of.  I’ve always enjoyed art for the escape it provides: when I’m working on a piece of art, the rest of the world is entirely gone.

I’ll sometimes still get out the ol’ pencil box and do some fanart or whatever.  (Some examples below because why not?)

And just recently, I picked up the guitar!  My brother has had a guitar just sitting in his closet for the past few years, and I earlier this summer, I had the sudden idea to ask to borrow it.  So for the past several weeks, I’ve been teaching myself guitar!  (This is why I love the internet, guys: YouTube tutorials, online tuners, free guitar chords, and pretty much anything else you need.)  And it’s been so much fun.  I love the learning curve that exists for when I first learn something new.  It seems like every day I practice, I learn something new.  I’m constantly making big strides; I’m growing exponentially.

For example, the first day of playing guitar I could barely play a few chords.  On the third day, I could play a simple song really slowly.  By day 5, my fingerstips no longer felt like I was slicing them open.  Within just a few weeks, I’ve learned how to use a capo, I can play chords in quick succession, and I’m able to pick up new chords really quickly.  I’m starting to learn strumming patterns and put everything together to play songs at regular tempo.

I fondly remember my early days of writing, when I’d just started out.  Every chapter I completed was uncharted territory; every blog post I read taught me something new.  I was like a sponge as I discovered found craft books and online blogs.  And then about halfway through my first novel, I found the website Critique Circle.  I used to get so excited when my chapters would come up for critique, because I was always learning.  New terms, new ideas, new things to think about.  Characters, tension, showing vs telling, passive vs active voice, dialogue, setting.  So much to learn about.  Writing was so exciting.  It was new and special and a bit scary.  It was also so exciting, because it was so easy to find resources that broadened my knowledge.

Sometimes, now, I find it difficult to be in love with writing.  I’ve grown so much as a writer.  I know so much more; I have a lot more experience; I know what I’m doing.  Not that I’m an expert or anything LOL – obviously I’m always learning and honing my craft.  I’m just… not a beginner anymore.  And because I’m no longer a beginner, I’m not learning new things about writing at the same rate as I was when I first started writing.  For reference, I’ve made this nifty graph:

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If you’re thinking that it looks like I made this graph if MS Paint, then you’re correct.  🙂

I’m at the point in my writing journey where the speed at which I’m learning has started to level off a bit.  So it’s easier to get discouraged, because I don’t see my skill improving at the same rate it used to be.

That’s why it was so refreshing for me to start learning guitar.  I’m still in the “beginner” phases, where I’m learning so quickly that it’s exciting and enticing.

So here’s a question for all you experienced writers: how do you keep perusing your dreams and your art when the learning gets slow?

I actually do want your answers (leave a comment below!) but I’d also like to add my own answer.  I do it by reminding myself how far I’ve come.  I don’t take for granted the things I’ve learned.  And I remind myself why I learned them.  I didn’t just learn about writing so I could keep all that knowledge in my head.  I learned about writing so I could be a better writer.  

And I’m in love with writing.  Not with being a writer, or knowing about writing, or being a published author, or anything else.  With the actual writing.  With taking an idea and making it come alive.  With editing a mess of a story into a coherent book.  With making magic happen with words and fingertips on keys.  That’s what I love.  The knowledge is just a tool to help me do that better.  So who cares about learning curves?  Let’s go write stories.

Where Inspiration Comes From

thought bubble 2Almost three years ago, I had one of those wonderful, fantastical dreams that leaves you breathless.  The type that when you wake up, you try to trick yourself into falling asleep again so you can get back.  Of course, there’s never any going back, is there?

But then I realized that I had my mind.

I remember spending over two hours that day just sitting in my room and creating another world with these characters that I’d dreamed about.  I spent all my spare time that next week keeping up the story in my head, sending my characters on one adventure after another.

Then I started writing it all down.  Soon I opened a word document and started typing, and I turned that dream into a novel called The Sound of Color.  I gave it a plot, more characters, new setting, and a story arc.  I learned that I loved to write.  I got my work critiqued, I re-wrote the first third of the novel, I edited the whole thing over and over, I discovered the online writing community, and I started calling myself a writer.

Which leads to two strange sets of questions:

  1. What if I’d never had that original dream?  Never been inspired to write The Sound of Color?  Would I have started writing anyways?  Would I have still written that story?  Was it God’s plan for me to have that particular dream at that particular time to start me on this journey?
  2. Where does inspiration come from, anyways?

I can’t answer question #1, but I can attempt #2.  I want to share with you different ways I’ve been inspired, and then if you have any cool stories or tips you can leave them in the comments.


Five Things That Inspire Me:

1) Artwork

Soon after I started writing TSOC, I decided to add a picture of my flute to my sketchbook.  I ended up with this:

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Those of you who have beta-read TSOC will know that a magic Flute is central to the plot.  As I put the colors in that picture above, a scene hit me of my characters finding this magic Flute that made all these colors as it was played.  I turned around twice and it was a major story point.

Even as I plan the next novel I’d like to write, I’ve gone back to the drawing board (pun intended), and I’ve loved creating the setting of the Bookstore through drawings in my sketchbook.
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2) Music

You might remember this post from a while ago about music.  But I really want to focus on the one song I mentioned: Arwen’s Vigil by ThePianoGuys.  It was a chilling, enchanting song that I couldn’t help but imagine my two MCs dancing to.  It was a song that brought me back to the heart of their relationship each time I listened to it.  You might even go as far as to say it was the “theme song” for the rough draft of TSOC.

Music has always been central to my writing… it’s a constant source of inspiration, of encouragement.  I even have a writing playlist on Spotify.  (If you wanna listen, here it is, but you need a Spotify account.)

3) Reading.

This should be a no-brainer.  But to prove my point let me say that the novel I’m currently planning (and drawing pictures of) is largely inspired by two fantastic books: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore (review here), and The Night Circus (review coming soon).  I like to think of good books as the fuel in the gas tank that lets my writing speed along the highway.  If I go too long without reading, I get stranded on the side of the road.

4) Keeping my eyes and mind open.

You might remember this post that talked about creating characters from real-life people.  Whether it’s an old man across the plane from me, or the sky last night that made me think of my new imaginary bookstore, I find bits of inspiration all around me every day.  A snippet of dialogue.  A picture on pinterest.  A little dreaming and drawing in physics class.  A sunset, a rainy day, a delicious cup of cocoa, a misbehaving horse.  Bits and pieces of new stories surround us every day, and as writers, it’s our job to collect them.

5) Writing.

There have been more times than I can count that I felt like my story was at a roadblock, yet I chose to sit down and write anyways – and in the end, I was hit with a totally new concept, a whole new idea or character or plot point.  (This was basically me throughout the entire month of November for NaNoWriMo.)journal

I’ve heard it said that as writers, we shouldn’t wait for inspiration to strike to start writing.  I agree – often times when I push through the ‘uninspired’ feeling, I find buried treasure underneath.  But one of the most exciting things about being a writer is that “aha!” feeling of inspiration.  The moment when a song, a book, a person, a piece of artwork – or even a dream – latches itself in my mind and turns itself into a part of a novel.  The feeling when I’m laying in bed at night and I have to turn on the light and write down an idea because it’s so breathtaking that I can’t let it go.

That’s genuine inspiration.

That’s what I, as a writer, live for.