justira ([personal profile] justira) wrote2010-11-13 10:57 pm

[Make-Your-Own Meme] Writing versus Arting!

Hey it's a post from that ridiculous/amazing/this is the worst idea/this is the best idea Make-Your-Own Meme "blog every day of November" thing! Original post/list of topics. Feel free to add more: LJ | DW — anon and openID welcome!

Quick note: I didn't post yesterday, so I'm doing two today. I was incredibly tired and this topic was hard and long and I wrung my hands quite a bit about skipping — I had so hoped to post every day. BUT I am also trying to work on not making myself unhealthy with my stubbornness and perfectionism, and this definitely falls in that category: I do not want to make myself sick. So. yeah =\

[personal profile] owlmoose: I'm curious to see more on your thoughts on writing versus art. How do you approach these two creative processes? How are they the same; how are they different? Really anything at all on the connections/disconnections would be great. (here)


Well all right. So. I am pretty obviously a media omnivore, but I also tend to think of myself as um, the reverse of that, whatever the production side is. I LIKE MAKING STUFF. Any kind of stuff! Fic and art are what I make most, but I actually dabble in a LOT of stuff? In fannish terms, specifically, I've finally started trying to make vids, which I'll post about later. But generally, I've always loved making things, like crafts (I crocheted a LOT for a while, and made macrame, but also generally I just MADE stuff); I used to be really into sculpture for a while, too, and actually made a few pretty neat things, my favourite of which is actually a fan sculpture of Skandranon the Black Gryphon. I really enjoy photography and really want to learn how to actually DO it. I have even attempted to write songs even though I know nothing about music.

BUT basically yeah, I do write and draw a lot, and my experiences have been very, very different.

One thing in common though is that I've never really taken classes in any of it. Art was one of my electives in middle school, but it was, like... you know, a pretty lackadaisical middle school art class? (whose instructor turned me off the US movie version of Wizard of Oz forever, by the way.) It was a place to DO art, not really a place to learn. The real exceptions were medium-specific: when I was younger, about 7-8, I learned to work in oils under a painter, and later (10-12?) I also once took a class in inks. But I've never been taught anatomy or lightning or perspective or colour theory or, well... anything except how to handle two tricky media. Likewise, for writing, I've never taken a creative writing course, never been taught anything about plotting or character development or worldbuilding or the technical/micro side of good writing. Pretty much everything I know about... any craft, really, I've learned on my own. Sometimes I lament this! More on that later. Anyway.

One more thing in common is that I tend to regard myself as deeply unoriginal — I have a lot of trouble coming up with ideas, especially since I feel like all my ideas have to be DEEP and IMPORTANT and MEANINGFUL. This affects both my art and my writing processes, though in slightly different ways. I'm still trying to convince myself that it's OKAY to just draw, or just write; it's okay to not have an earthshattering idea every time (or ever).

I've always drawn and been encouraged to draw by family and teachers. My parents still have some of my early drawings (like 2-4 years old) somewhere; they largely consisted of mermaids. I went through a HUGE mermaid phase, okay?

But I drew a lot and have always been praised and encouraged and generally supported in this endeavour. As a kid, I never hesitated to show my drawings around; as I got older I actually got more shy about it (independently of how an increasing proportion of my drawings were fannish and/or contained dudes making out). I'm not sure why, besides that my depression got worse and my self-confidence with it.

I can't say I've always been a writer in the same way: I didn't start writing until I discovered the joy of reading for pleasure. Which makes sense, really. But I started my first novel idea in 4th grade, the same year I started reading for fun, and it's actually an idea I still dabble with (though of course it's changed tremendously since then). But I never got into the habit of showing anyone my writing. I think by the time I started writing, my self-confidence was already pretty much screwed (4th grade, really? that's kind of depressing), and I didn't have the same history of already having been showing my work to fall back on. So I wrote, quietly. My teachers often recognized that I wrote good essays, but the first time any teacher actually did anything about my creative writing was 12th grade: I was 17 before anyone took me aside and told me I had something worth developing there. And then! Then I read my college application essay to that class and they laughed at me which didn't really help =\ (I comfort myself with the knowledge that I wrote exactly the right thing to get into the school I wanted. jerks.)

So it's probably not surprising that I've always had even less confidence in my writing than in my art. I was lucky to have someone tell me, at 17, that I had something there; I know a lot of people don't have this experience until even later, or never. But within the context of my life, this was a big contrast with my art, which I'd been praised for and urged to develop since before I can remember.

So now. Now. I guess we'll start with art.

Art is WAY easier for me than writing. Don't get me wrong, I struggle with my art quite a bit, but everything about the process is easier. I find it way easier to just sit down and draw something; drawing has become something almost meditative: I can sit down and work on a drawing and just focus on the work and the pleasure of practicing a craft and trying to do it well. That last touches on what is probably the most important difference between art and writing for me: I am way more confident in and comfortable in my art. This doesn't mean I think I'm amazing at it — just that I feel I am more able to accurately and objectively assess my art. (I have a relatively easy time doing this with other people's work, both writing and art, which is one of the reasons I enjoy doing betas and critique.)

I find it WAY easier to look at my art and see the flaws and successes — the latter especially has a huge impact on me, as we are all now intimately familiar with the disaster that is my self-confidence! And I can take the flaws much more philosophically — just because my anatomy isn't perfect now doesn't mean I can't make it better, and so on. And especially after my daily doodle project, when I see a flaw, I can often figure out exactly what's wrong and how to fix it — this is progress, as a year ago I could often spot something wrong, but would have no idea what to DO about it. It also gives me the confidence to post without a check with someone else — I can be pretty sure, on my own, whether something is decent enough or not.

As for actual process! First, the idea! As I said before, I have this complex where I feel like everything I create has to have this deep meaning to it. Character insight. An interesting story. Lots of emotion. Something. But especially lately, I've gotten a lot better at just letting myself draw something I think would be neat, like "hey, I want to see Character X doing Activity", or even "hey, I just feel like drawing Character X". When I do come up with a Real Idea, I tend to agonize over that piece of art, but it also feels fulfilling. Characterization, also, is extremely important to me in my art. While I can definitely draw random non-serious stuff, I also am really sensitive to anything OOC, both in my art and in other people's. I don't always get it right in my own art, of course! But especially in my serious pieces, I work really hard at it.

These days I do a mix of "sit down, draw for a few hours or a couple evenings, and have art I am comfortable posting" and "work on a single piece a couple hours at a time for months and months". For the latter, I should probably consider it a good thing that, more often than not, latley the first hour or two consists of fixing months-old things I did wrong months ago — this means I'm improving, right? The process itself, for any given art, basically is just an EXTREMELY messy sketch to get the idea out (YOU DO NOT WANT TO SEE THESE). Then I put that on low opacity, make a new layer, and do a less messy version. Rinse and repeat — sometimes I need as many as 7 or 8 iterations before I'm ready to ink; sometimes I get it on the second shot. Basically the process is highly iterative. I haven't coloured enough to have a set process besides throwing spaghetti at the metaphorical wall. For traditional media, it greatly varies but it's generally NOT iterative: there's no undo in real life (HOW I WISH). I worked in traditional media for most of my life, though, and I can make very, very light sketch lines by now =d

Once I finish a piece of art, I tend to post it right away, or soon. I will often find flaws later, after posting — days, weeks, months later — that I didn't see at first, but this doesn't often bother me too much; I hate that I didn't get it perfect, but I can look forward to doing better next time.

Writing. OH WRITING. Writing is way, way, WAY harder for me — to the point where I often feel like a fraud doing this. When I do art, I feel like an amateur — not great at it, but making legitimate attempts that I work to improve. Often when I try to write, there's a lot of "what am I even doing trying?" A lot of this is based in my history, I suppose, but a lot of it also comes down to not being able to assess my writing. Like at all.

I know it's not like, downright terrible (god I feel awful even saying that, this sounds so arrogant). But I really really cannot tell beyond that. Like at all. I can assess other people's writing, and pretty decently, I think; I'm told I'm a pretty good editor. I've always been better at editing on a technical, sentence/word level, but I've been working to improve my editing skills, and I think lately I've gotten better at bigger-picture stuff like pacing. And I can do a fair amount of sentence/word level editing on my own work. But for anything general — did I do everyone in character, is the pacing okay, and especially anything like "is the fic overall okay" or "is this idea even worth doing"— I can't. And since my default state is assuming that I and everything I do is pretty terrible, then I really — guys, I am not being facetious — tend to be stuck in thinking that my writing just is not good. I can't tell, and so I assume the worst.

Even the editing I can do, I often need a bit of distance for. With art, I can spot flaws immediately, or sometimes I need to step away for a few hours or a day, then I can come back and see it. With writing, to do a serious edit that catches lots of things, I need several days. A week. Weeks. Months. A year (TRUE STORY). I prefer to have at least a few weeks between finishing a story and giving it a good edit. Otherwise I am just too close to the words; they feel rote and mechanical to me no matter what and I can't come up with any useful criticism — and in fact, am likely to make myself feel worse if I try to read through my work too soon, because, again, I know all the words and they all feel dumb to me. (By the way, I can't really read my own work, once it's finished. I know some people can read their own fic, but I can't.)

Process! I have an even harder time coming up with ideas for writing. I cannot "just write" like I can "just draw". I tend to have interests I want to write about — say, a particular ship — but can never come up with an idea that feels worthy. It's not like I don't have any ideas, it's just that I can't assess those, either. They mostly just feel dumb, trite, Not Deep Enough, or otherwise not-worth-it. This is why I love having other people give me ideas! I like gift exchanges and prompt lists for this reason; I can stop agonizing over this step, pick something that sounds interesting, and just go!

... I say that like I actually "just go" anywhere. This is not true. Actually getting the words out is extremely difficult. Writing is not meditative for me at all. I rarely feel like the words are in me waiting to get out, I just know I want to tell a story. For me, the first draft is EVERYTHING. If I can just get a first draft out, I can go into Edit Mode after that instead of OH GOD WORDS mode. It's not like I have no words — again, it just feels like they all suck. I have a really hard time getting my inner editor to shut up and let me write. This has, THANKFULLY, gotten a little easier thanks to the tremendous fic I'm working on and the WONDERFUL AMAZINGNESS of my co-writer, [personal profile] seventhe. It has been INCREDIBLY helpful to me to have an environment where I can produce words and get constant, judgment-free encouragement to just keep going. I of course still judge myself, but I really NEED that external bit of encouragement: when I have no one but myself to listen to, it's often not pretty.

But anyway, process. NOT. ITERATIVE. I need that first draft and I cannot have anything less. I cannot write something way rough and then have to go back and look at how terrible it is as I try to fix/tweak/expand it. I know some writers do, like, shorthand versions of scenes and then fill them out later. I can't do this (though, again, I'm getting a bit looser with this recently). Until recently, I also never outlined, either for fiction or non-fic writing like essays. I would always just hold the structure in my mind. However, I have been doing tons of outlining recently, cripes, from the very informal kind where I just write out a short point-by-point summary of the fic to really long elaborate things going over every plot point in detail. I'm not sure what this means; I'm hoping that it means I'm moving on to more complex and involved projects, and/or that I'm taking more care with my writing and developing more skills. Luckily, I have a post on this very topic for later! So for now, let's just say I sometimes outline and then go directly into writing the whole story out as fully as I can.

Then, by preference, I leave it alone and don't look the thing in the face for a few weeks. Once I give it my own edit, I call in betas — yes, usually plural, because I need this much handholding to convince me that it's worth it and worth posting. In general, I am incredibly dependent on feedback for my fic. Like. You do not understand. I really really need other people to tell me my writing is decent for me to think it's maybe not terrible and possibly even good. To be clear: I do not want praise; I want feedback. Anything that will give me something other than myself to listen to. Criticism is good because it makes me more certain, shows me concrete things I can work on. It's the uncertainty I can't stand; nothing anyone could say about my writing could be worse than what I tell myself.

Also, again to be clear: I don't write for the purpose of receiving feedback. Cause, haha, if that were the case, yeah, I would never write again, because I have picked the WORST fandom for that. I am incredibly grateful for the feedback I do get, but Final Fantasy is a pretty low-feedback fandom (which I didn't realize until recently — in fact, I didn't realize it, it was pointed out to me). If I'm honest with myself, then I know that FF fandom is actually probably unhealthy for me in this respect — writing and posting in FF fandoms tends to damage my self-confidence rather than build it up because the reactions I get tend to range from utter silence to a few comments from people I know. I love that feedback, but the silence and the quiet hurt. It's not anyone's fault or anything; I can't ask people to pay attennnntion to meeeeee. But looking at the works I've posted in other fandoms and the feedback I get there, I've come to realize that there's a huge difference and that it actually hurts me. I don't know what to do about that — I mean, it's not anyone else's problem that I have this huge complex — but luckily I have a post on fandom for later, too!

Just as a note, I am DEFINITELY not like that for art. I always love more feedback, but I can go on arting in contentment without it.

Anyway. To wrap up writing, one last thing that's different about the writing process: DIALOGUE. I am INCREDIBLY insecure about my dialogue. I mean, the thing is, I don't TALK to people. Like seriously, I don't. I'm way quiet offline except with a very small number of people, and I am generally incredibly unsure of my social interaction skills. So trying to write dialogue mines two of my biggest insecurities: social interaction and characterization. FFFFFF

SO. Basically I am Insecurity City. But we know that already. I know that a lot of the improvement in how I interact with my art and arting process has to do with the projects I've done there and how hard I've worked on it. I do work hard on my writing, too, but I find it harder to find good regimented exercises there. I'm planning, after I finish this goddamn unending story, to try and do a lot more things like fic challenges, drabble challenges, anonmeme stuff, and suchlike.

And, finally and relatedly, I do often wish anyone had taught me... anything, really, about any of this. I'm proud of the skills I've managed to gain on my own, but there's a difference between trying to teach myself something like colour theory or plotting and being taught. For one, classes would give me that outsider perspective I need so much. I've been considering taking some classes, but! But I am not sure. Classes take time and money, and some stubborn part of me thinks I should just keep muddling along on my own. I don't know! Have any of you ever taken art or writing classes? how did that go! any thoughts?
owlmoose: (book - key)

[personal profile] owlmoose 2010-11-14 04:30 am (UTC)(link)
A lot to mull on, here; this is just a quick first reaction, and I hope to have more to say later.

I agree that the lack of feedback in FF fandom sometimes leaves me a little bit lost, too, although I am more confident in my own ability to write pretty well. Of course, I am as bad as anybody about not commenting on stories I read, or people's journal posts, so I am definitely not being part of the solution here. It would take a huge culture shift. :-\ But as you say, that's another topic for another day.

I suspect that the lack of early encouragement for your writing versus your art could be a huge reason for your confidence gap there. It's certainly logical, in terms of learning patterns early. And those are the hardest kinds of patterns to unlearn, although it's great that you've made progress at least in your art.

I did take a creative writing class once -- I needed a class to round out summer school in the year between 8th and 9th grade -- but all I felt like I got out of it was practice. Some of the exercises were okay, the critique somewhat useful, but none of it really stuck with me. Then again, I wasn't very developed as a writer then, and I gave up writing for over a decade not long afterwards. So maybe it would be more useful now.
juniperphoenix: Fire in the shape of a bird (Default)

[personal profile] juniperphoenix 2010-11-14 01:15 pm (UTC)(link)
Mermaids! I also went through a mermaid phase that coincided with the period when I was watching The Little Mermaid EVERY DAY. I have never had much drawing ability at all, but I can draw a Disney mermaid like nobody's business. :)