Sketch by Anna Martinez
My daughter has always loved art. We joke that the was the first baby in the neighborhood to stop eating crayons and start using them. It’s been a constant throughout all the phases of her life so far, from toddler to elementary school to tween, and we’ve encouraged her explorations. (Those of you who have my books might flip to the author mugshots in the back for her first professional photo credits.)
For her, art is fun and joyful, and since she has skills — objectively speaking, not just being a doting dad here — she already knows she wants to make a go of it somehow as a profession, with the current emphasis being fashion design. But there’s a difference between “fun” art and “professional” art, and that difference is training.
She hates it.
OK, hate is too strong a word, but as she goes into more advanced art classes, she’s now understanding the hard work, discipline and skill development involved. That’s made art less fun, at least for now, but it’s still necessary. Critical, even. There really is only so far you’ll go on raw talent alone. So now she’s doing a pure skills class in drawing, the result of which you can see here. She also feels like that little guy after class sometimes, but hey, she’s 12. And that’s a good sketch.
Practice, man. It’s hard. You write and write and write, and sometimes it’s just practice — the story isn’t gonna see the light of day. While it’s not a horrible story, because you have some innate talent (you hope), it’s still not good. I remember my first stabs at fiction, oh so many years ago. I submitted some work to White Wolf and SJG back in the day — before the dot-com bubble burst, actually — and while the editors there were kind, well…I didn’t have it. It wasn’t good enough.
And so I practiced. Now, I get to practice all kinds of writing because it’s my day job, and there’s a higher correlation between journalism, marketing copy and fiction than you’d think. I’m writing to convince people of something — whether it’s the importance of a news event, the benefits of a particular decision you’d like them to make, or the plausibility of your plot, setting and characters. There’s different aspects to each, but there’s still stuff to be learned no matter what I’m scribbling.
Prior to writing my first novel, I’d already been a writer for nearly twenty years, and still that puppy needed so much work before it hit the shelves. My novels always need more work, even when I think I hit it out of the park. (Actually, I find the more enamored I am of a piece of writing, the more work it needs. Go figure.) Revision is a kind of practice, too; you’re practicing writing that scene or chapter or book several times over before you get it right.
It can be frustrating to write something and know that it might never get published. Heck, my debut was rejected several times over before it went to Night Shade Books, and there were times when I wondered if the whole thing was just gonna be a weird lark. But I stuck with it, and I still write stuff that I’m not sure will ever get out there. It’s good to do that, to try new things, to expand the skill-set and keep plugging.
And let’s hear it for guidance, too. Ross Lockhart turned my first novel around in so many ways. Cory Allyn is a fantastic editor and collaborator. Every editor I’ve worked with in fiction has given me valuable teaching moments and made me better, rather like how my kid’s art teacher is making her a better artist.
I get a little frustrated when writers ignore the benefits of practice and guidance. They’ll rip on editors as folks who try to “commercialize” their fiction or deviate from the vision or whatever. They say revision and discipline is for hacks. They don’t think this stuff applies to them. It does. (There’s a reason the Guy In Your MFA is so popular, because every writer knows that guy.)
So practice. Nobody’s gonna skate on raw talent when it comes to writing, or any kind of art. Practice and revise, seek out guidance and get better. That’s how it’s done.