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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

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Art

So, John Lennon once said……

………that every child is an artist until he is told he isn’t. It doesn’t have to be an actual person saying this to an actual child (or an adult) for them to feel ‘not good enough’ at being creative. A first attempt can be pretty intimidating, especially if this is a new experience for you or you’re trying something different. Comparing yourself to another’s artwork can be pretty tempting to do, but it’s counter-productive and wreaks havoc on your self-esteem.
By all means, look at another artist’s paintings or another writer’s work, but use their final product as a tool to guide you. Leonardo da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa from 1503 to 1506 and even then, it’s suspected he worked on it as late as 1517. Look at the back of any Stephen King novel and you’ll see two sets of dates – the start date and the finish date. It takes King anywhere from three to five years to write each novel and he works on more than one at the same time.
I’ve always regarded being creative as something akin to archaeology. You have a plot laid out, the tools to uncover it, and an idea of what it looks like. As with a chisel and hammer, you take pen and paper (or canvas and brush) and start to dig. You don’t find the whole thing right away – maybe a piece here, a fragment there. You follow a line that doesn’t seem to lead anywhere and then find that it splits off into a different direction. Eventually, you have an almost complete skeleton to speculate and ponder over.
Are you finished? Hardly. The best thing to do with a roughed out draft or sketch is to set it aside for a few days. Then the real work begins. Details start to emerge that you didn’t see before. The piece which appeared to be apropos of nothing has now found its proper place. The fragment that didn’t seem to relate to anything is suddenly a crucial plot point.
This is where opening up to your creative self can be a little terrifying. It’s about letting go of the inner critic, ignoring that little voice that says you can’t do it, and taking that huge step forward. Because what you’re trying to unearth isn’t a work of art or the next Great American Novel. What you’re doing is sifting through the doubts and worries and ‘I can’ts’ to find that young artist and say, “I am an artist and I can.”

*****
Editor’s note – this blog post is also published concurrently on Citizens Journal Ventura County. JJB

So, Julia Child once said…….

……..in reference to making an omelet, “When you flip anything, you really….you just have to have the courage of your convictions.”
While she was talking in terms of cooking, her words can apply to any part of your life, professionally, personally, and artistically. Opening yourself up to being creative is just as hard and terrifying as it is to open up to another person, which is why you need that courage of your convictions to take that leap of faith.
So, what now? How do you start? Well, what makes you smile? What makes your heart feel light and your feet want to dance? Is it poetry or sketching? Is it music or pottery? Trust your instinct enough to follow it. This is your time, your gift to yourself. Take a pen and a pad of paper, write down the first creative thing you enjoy that comes to mind. Then the next and the next. Make a list of creative, artistic things. Then go forth and create, whether it’s baking a cake or writing four lines of poetry.
Be prepared to do badly at first, but if you find your smile in the act, then keep pursuing it, whether it’s singing in the shower or strumming two chords on a guitar. If one doesn’t work for you, give yourself permission to try something else on your list.
Julia Child went to college with the intention of becoming a writer, but although she enjoyed the process, none of her writings were ever published. She developed a passion for French cuisine after moving to France and it was this that began her journey into French cooking, which resulted in the cookbook masterpiece, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, co-written with Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle.
This was not an overnight success story – first, she discovered a passion, then, with trial and error and persistence, she pursued the process and then she found success.
That’s a fairly simplistic analysis, but it has its own truth. Julia Child pursued French cooking because it made her happy. That’s the important take-away. To find the spark that makes you happy means listening to that inner voice, the one that whispers with excitement, “I want to do that”.
There is no right or wrong way to the process – everyone has their own method for their artistic self. Remember that this is your gift for you alone. What you choose to do with it is up to you. And, to continue this cooking theme, remember that in order to make an omelet, you need to break a few eggs.

 

Editor’s note – this post is published concurrently on Citizens Journal – Ventura County. JJB

So, awhile back, I was talking to a friend about life……

……..the universe and everything. She mentioned the need to vent, but not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings in the process. I suggested a journal, but she felt it was too personal and could be easily read by unwanted eyes. Privacy was important. This led to a discussion of writing things down to purge them from the mind and heart, then tossing them into a fire place or barbecue pit and lighting a match, to maintain privacy.

The other idea I had was to take all those feelings and thoughts and create art with it, so that the only one who knows what it truly means is the creator. To anyone else, it would be art and what they got out of it would be what they brought to it (personal feelings, experiences, etc.).

My friend demurred, saying she was not creative like that. I encouraged her to think about it, because it would be only for her, not for anyone else, and that not even the great artists of all times started out brilliant.

But it got me thinking, about being creative, about needing to express feelings that are hurtful or loving, about being vulnerable to the process.

Because that’s what it takes, to be creative. It is a leap of faith, in opening yourself up to the blank page or the empty mixing bowl. And what if you’re not sure you are creative, but find a variety of things (like painting or ceramics or singing or knitting or writing or cooking) interesting? What if you find all of them interesting? What if you just don’t know where to start?

My suggestion? Try them all. Maybe not at the same time, of course, but try one type of creative art for one month. If it’s a chore or it just doesn’t sustain your interest early on, give yourself permission to stop and try something else. The point is to have fun expressing yourself in an artistic form.

Whether it’s mindless doodling, a few words in structured form or tiered cake, the point is, you’re creating. It’s for you alone. You don’t have to share it with anyone unless you want to. The point is that you create with your heart and translate it to canvas, clay or paper.

 

Edited: This article is published concurrently on Citizens Journal Ventura County. JJB

And now, a word from Raymond Chandler…….

“An age which is incapable of poetry is incapable of any kind of literature except the cleverness of a decadence.”

Raymond Chandler, author
July 23, 1888 – March 26, 1959

So, as 2014 winds down…….

……..and 2015 fast approaches, I’ve been ruminating on some observations and thoughts that have occurred to me over the last year.

Turns out, they also make good writing points.

*Every experience you have, the good, the bad, the ugly, belongs to you. This, of course, also means that the other people in those experiences are bringing their truths/reality to the same situation, thus creating a conflicting dynamic. You can’t control that in life, so let it go. Putting it in a story, however, adds some rich texture to the plot and characters.

*People are complex creatures, but they are also pretty black and white. A good-hearted person can have a moment of coldness, and a narcissist can have a moment of genuine empathy. What happened in those moments before that caused them to behave in such a manner? At the end of the day, this makes them human. This is a good thing to remember when developing characters and giving them motivation.

*There are stories everywhere – in a bar, on a crosswalk, in a room where the packing of books and other items occur. Who are these people? Why are they in that place, in that moment? Why did this person order this particular book/item? Where? When? What? How? Every person you meet, every situation or place you walk into, has a story to tell. Find it.

*Life is unpredictable, chaotic. This is okay. Stories should also be unpredictable and chaotic, but the nice thing is, you get to control the story. Life is not so easy, but you can at least manage the sails enough to navigate the waters in good times and bad. Sometimes, the story can act as the ballast or the anchor as you go.

These are my thoughts, such as they are. You may find them helpful and insightful or you may not. That’s the way the ball bounces.

And now a word from Anne Lamott……..

“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

Anne Lamott
author, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

So, by observing my surroundings…….

……my intent is to process the mood, emotions and other chaotic elements of what I see into the story, the characters and their surroundings. This is helpful in two ways – one, I have details that I can attribute to one or more characters and enrich the story and two, I can see an inevitable end to the course that’s been set by chance (or a few choice words on paper).

Of course, as the writer, you might think I have ultimate control over how things pan out with the characters, but I don’t. They’re just as taciturn and ornery as the people I meet in a bookstore or a bar or, well, anywhere. That I arrive at the ending I planned on is always a bonus, but getting there has always been a road trip on the back roads of America (or Europe or Africa, for that matter) without the use of a map. Adventurous? Yes. Recommended? That depends – some writers/authors use outlines, others don’t. Personal preference.

But I digress.

I write about the things I’ve experienced or observed to better process and understand them.  I’ve seen some head-scratching incidents and behaviors that had me in a state of perplexity. I’m only half-successful in that I can recreate those situations to a certain degree and have the outcome turn out in a way that makes sense to me, but wouldn’t necessarily occur in real life. At least, that’s been my experience.

And I suppose that’s the way of Life and the way of Fiction or Art of any kind – one that Is and the other is How I Perceive It.

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