Balance

I used to think that I had to choose which creative outlet that I wanted to give all of my time. I felt that if I was going to write, then I couldn’t paint or draw and if I was drawing or painting, then I couldn’t write. I thought that this was how my brain was wired. It’s a big part of the reason that I didn’t do much writing in my twenties. Instead, I was a visual artist. I discovered oil paint and watercolor and I went to school for graphic design. Writing was limited to college papers.

For the past two years, I’ve been mostly writing. This meant that I stopped painting. I barely doodled. I’ve loved writing, but I miss painting. I get something different out of each endeavor. Writing is harder work, and can often be very frustrating, but is very rewarding when the story comes together or I find the right words or the right phrases. It’s a workout for my brain. Painting is like a meditation. I can completely unplug from everything around me. Time slips away. The joy I find in painting is in the creation of it and less about the finished product.

I don’t like having to choose between these two pursuits and I think I might have been terribly wrong about how my brain operates. I decided that I probably should be doing both of these things simultaneously. I have this theory that writing drains the creativity from me and painting might just fill it back up.

So, this week I tried to find a balance between visual art and creative writing.

Each day, I first had to reach my word count. Right now, my daily word count is around a thousand words. That’s a nice comfortable amount for me for the amount of time that I can put into it every day. If I push myself I can write as many as two thousand words a day, but I find that’s a bigger struggle and I lose some of the joy that I have in writing. If I reached my word count early enough in the day, I could then spend my evening doing visual art. I returned to the redditgetsdrawn community and did watercolor portraits. I usually only had an hour or two to draw and paint them, but that was enough.

This was what I accomplished this week:

None of that painting got in the way of my writing. Apparently, my brain is perfectly capable of handling whatever I throw at it. I wish that I hadn’t allowed this sort of self-imposed limitation rule my creativity for the last fifteen years.

P.S. Writers who were also visual artists? There’s apparently a lot of them, so I’m in good company.

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The Rebirth of Creativity


I like to watch my kids play. I like the way they throw themselves into it. They make things up. They dance. They sing. They draw. They paint. There is nothing better than a child being creative. It’s messy, crazy, and uninhibited. They don’t color in the lines. They don’t worry about something looking perfect or being the right color. They don’t follow the rules. They don’t always use tools the way they are intended. And when they are done? They are proud of it. They show you.

This is how my kids are and from what I’m seen and heard, this is how most kids are. That means that when I was little, I was like that too. So were you.

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Oh, sweetie…

My mom kept stories that I wrote when I was in elementary school, stories that were complete nonsense, but that I remember being so proud of.  I made up dance routines with my little sister in our back yard. I recorded songs on cassette tapes. I made a big lion fish in fifth grade out of paper mache that I thought was perfection.

That same grade (I think), I, with three of my friends, did an entire lip sync routine to “It’s in his kiss,” for a talent show in front of the whole school. I think we used the version sung by Cher. And before you ask, it was wonderful. We were amazing.

There was no art form that I didn’t think I could do. I don’t remember when I stopped thinking that. I don’t remember when I started saying things like:

“I can’t sing.”

“I’m the worst at dancing. I have no rhythm and no coordination.”

“I’m not good at that.”

“I can’t.”

At this point in my life, I think I would rather die than get in front of a group of people and lip sync the song, “It’s in his kiss.” And seriously, why did we choose that song of all songs? We were in fifth grade in like 1993, not 1964.

So, where did all of that go? Why did I stop dancing and singing and painting and writing?

For me, I think the thing that killed my creativity as an adult was this idea that there had to be some sort of profit from creating. If I was going to be a painter, then I needed to paint things that people would want to put in their homes. If I was going to be a writer, then I needed to write books that could be published. I am an adult. I needed to be professional. I had to be the best. It wasn’t something that I could do for fun anymore.

But that put a lot of pressure on me and so when I sat down in front of a blank canvas or an empty screen, I was paralyzed. There is a quote from the book “Art and Fear” that pretty much sums it up:

To require perfection is to invite paralysis. The pattern is predictable: as you see error in what you have done, you steer your work toward what you imagine you can do perfectly. You cling ever more tightly to what you already know you can do – away from risk and exploration, and possibly further from the work of your heart. You find reasons to procrastinate, since to not work is to not make mistakes.

I had gone a long spell without creating. I painted here and there, but never as much as I wanted and I always left more paintings unfinished than finished. I couldn’t remember the last time I had written something outside of course work in college. It felt like my creativity was just all dried up inside of me.

And then the craziest thing happened several months after my son was born that pulled me out of my creative funk.

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RGD portrait in watercolor

There’s a subreddit on Reddit called redditgetsdrawn. How it works is that people upload photos of themselves or their kids or their friends or their dogs and they ask artists to create something with them. I started creating portraits, first with pens and markers but then with watercolor and even oil paint. I became obsessed. I spent nearly every moment of my free time creating these pictures for strangers on the internet. I stayed up late at night because I couldn’t pull myself away. It didn’t matter if they didn’t look great or if what I was experimenting with didn’t work out. I was a faceless person on the internet. When it failed, I just shrugged and moved to the next thing. If it succeeded, I was motivated to do more.

For months I did this. I have stacks and stacks of portraits of strangers in my house. I have a tumblr that is nothing but these pictures.

Then one day, I was reading a book and I told my husband that I thought I could write a book too. He said he believed me but I wanted to prove it. And I did. I wrote a book. It was garbage. Total, utter garbage. But I had failed before. I shrugged and moved to the next thing. I rewrote the story. I’ll probably rewrite it again. I’ve also written another book, a book that needs some work but a book that I like, that might just have the capability of going somewhere.

I have my creative mojo back.

I hope it will stay. I’m clinging to it tightly, pushing myself to work every day, even when it’s hard and I don’t want to, even when I’m still a little afraid that I will only fail. I don’t want to lose it, but if I do, I have a little more experience in finding it again.

As for the singing and dancing thing, we’ll leave that for dancing with my kids in the kitchen and singing in the car. It’s for the best.

Hello World

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Did you ever have that dream where you find yourself somewhere very public and you look down and you realize that you don’t have any clothes on? Everyone has this dream, right? For me that dream turns up enough times that I’ve looked up what it means in a dream dictionary.

Here’s a basic rundown of what it means.

  • It may suggest you are feeling vulnerable or insecure.
  • You may be afraid that you or your actions will be exposed to others.
  • You may be feeling ashamed of yourself for something you said or did.
  • The phrase, “the naked truth” comes to mind and so you may be “baring your soul” to someone or you are being open and honest with yourself about something.

Makes sense, right? It’s not like if you dream about a cow skeleton which apparently means that your mother in real life is not showing her emotions and is not responding to your needs. I’m not sure how that conclusion was reached and I also am curious how a cow skeleton just appears in a dream. Dreams are crazy things.

The reason that I bring up the whole naked dream thing is because I feel like I’m having one of those right now. Except I’m completely awake.

See, for the past year, I have worked alone on putting words on paper. Not always paper, of course. You know what I mean. I’ve been getting the words out of my head. I’ve been trying to arrange them to actually create people, to build worlds, to tell a story that I would want to read. Some days are great, the words just glide out. Other days are hard and it’s a struggle to reach my word count. But I’ve kept my word counts. I’ve kept my goals and in less than six months, I have finished two first drafts.

I have officially written two novels.

The problem is that I’ve gotten used to being alone with nothing but my words. I’ve become comfortable with hiding behind my computer screen. It’s safe here. There’s no danger of failure. There’s no one to tell me that my writing is bad or wrong or that I’ll never really be a writer. Of course, the flip side to that is there’s also no room for success, no way of reaching out to the world with my words and hoping that I can connect with someone.

When I tell my husband how desperately I want to be a writer, he always asks, “Do you write?”

I know where he is going with his line of questioning so I usually huff out a sigh or roll my eyes. He thinks that if I write, then I am a writer. I think if I am a writer, then I need people to read what I write.

It’s not too different from the thought experiment about a falling tree. If a tree falls in the woods and nobody’s there to hear it, does it make a sound? If a writer writes two novels and never lets anyone read it, is she still a writer?

I know. I know. It’s different. Plenty of people write because they enjoy it and it doesn’t matter if anyone reads it. Think of all of the people who write in diaries or journals. They aren’t any less of a writer because they keep their words private. But that’s not me. I want people to read what I write. I want to put it out there, even if it’s scary and I feel overexposed and I feel like everyone is going to point and laugh.

I want to be a writer and I want to be the sort of writer who writes things that people want to read. So, that means, I have to suck it up and I have to share. This blog? It’s practice, a way of gradually sharing my words with readers. What I hope it will become is what I hope all of my words will become, a connection out there to the rest of the world. I’m going to ignore the part of me that feels overexposed, that feels vulnerable. I’m not going to be afraid.

So, this first post is it. This is me stepping out there, feeling like I got nothing on except my words.

Hello world.