Visual artists are clear about the type of artist they are; word artistry is more complex. but if you are a writer, you are an artist, actively engaged in creating beauty and truth.
When we think of an artist, quite often a visual artist such as a painter comes to mind. But artists are found in every creative field, including writing. A true writer is a true artist; a brilliant writer is a brilliant artist. I would be happy to be a good artist, and I realize that a lot of elements go into that pursuit. The first thing to consider is the image I have for a final product, which means knowing what emotion supports the idea and finding ways to make that emotion jump from the page. By working with your original idea, your image will start to evolve and reveal itself.
The final product of a painting is all about the image created. But the tools were vital in that creation: the type of medium, the length of strokes, the mix of color, the lines, proportion and more. The same is true of writing. You may have a wonderful idea to express, an important message, an opinion, an emotion, or story. But you require the time and tools to create the final product in which you can take pride and say “Yes. This is what I wanted to create”. The final product is an essay, or a poem, but the tools include the choice of words, the rhythm of the sentences, the flow, the sound the words make together, and the unified image. Of course, there are the basic elements of writing that many struggle with: grammar. It really does matter that your message be written properly, but the tools of grammar are also about style, creating rhythm, suspense, irony, conflicts and tension.
The tools of writing are not just for clarity, but for added meaning and beauty. A well placed semi-colon or dash can be a beautiful thing in a written work – just as a misused apostrophe can take away from it. But this is not a lesson in grammar. This is about the work to which artists but commit.
We often hear about writing that “just flows out” of people. Yes, ideas and words do that. But the best writing takes a lot of work and a lot of thought. It takes commitment to the piece and a desire for beauty. Firstly, please do consider yourself an artist when you write, and your final product as your artistic expression. Here is a simple exercise that begins with one sentence as a starting point. How can it be reworked to paint a powerful image for the reader?
“The woman walked down the street with her children.” Now, imagine an image and the emotions we want to convey and make some changes. First, change any nondescript words to more emotive and informative ones. Change “woman” to “mother”. In what manner is she walking? What emotion are you trying to convey? Add some adjective: tired? Disheveled? Scrawny? How fast is she moving? Slowly. What about the street? Is it really just a street or wide avenue, a barren dirt road or a busy city sidewalk? Put this family in a city to create more of a sense of isolation. How many children? How are they dressed? What can you convey by describing their dress? Shiny, pressed clothes tells one story; hand-me-downs tells another. Let’s go with the latter. Create an emotion and stick to the image. Are they holding hands? Yes, have them hold hands because it tells something about them. Is one being carried?
(Only use one adjective for each noun! Do not use two or more. Writing should tell a lot but not use more words than required.) Are people looking at them or are they unmoved by their presence? Let’s keep the sentiment lonely and sad; no one is looking at them. They are isolated. Finally, what metaphor (comparison) can we make to show how they look and move? Maybe a sleepy snake through morning grass. So now, after keeping in mind our image, and making every word count to convey that image, what do we have?
“A disheveled mother slowly moves down the busy city sidewalk, her three children beside her. Dressed in rags the four hold hands, walking between the oblivious crowds like a sleepy snake through morning grass.”
This is a much better piece of writing. But that was just one try. We are Artists! Next we should look at every word again and consider if they can be improved upon by deleting, changing, rearranging or adding.
“Slowly moving” is slightly descriptive but does not give much emotional information to the reader. Perhaps aimlessly negotiating tells more of a story. Are there any clichés that need to be livened up and made original? Yes! A “busy city sidewalk” is a cliché. Hectic is a better word. “Dressed in rags” is a cliché. “Clad in faded hand-me-downs” is a little more original. “Hold hands” can be changed to something more emotional and descriptive like “clutched tiny fingers”. We should also replace any non-descriptive verbs with more active ones. Remember, we are trying to paint a picture. “Walk” becomes “weave”. So now, after some work and thought, we have “The disheveled mother aimlessly negotiates the hectic sidewalk, her three children in tow. Clad in faded hand-me-downs the four clutch tiny fingers, weaving between the oblivious crowds like a sleepy snake through morning grass.”
Ah! We are so much closer to being artists now!
Art requires work, but the process can be enjoyable and rewarding as you watch your writing become clearer, more beautiful, more dramatic. You will be so much more proud of what you create. Do not stop at those first ideas that just flow out of you. Everyone has moments like that, but good writers are like sculptors who take those first forms and chip away at them to discover what beauty hides within.
Pre-write, write, and re-write. I urge you right now to go pick up a piece of writing you have and re-work it. Look at it word by word, take out the clichés, infuse it with emotion, make it original, know your image. Your ideas are worth it.