I began writing because no one had yet written the story I saw playing out in my head. And I knew that the story I was envisioning would never get told right if I weren’t the one to do it, because who else could see it the same way as me?
No one, of course. That’s the simple truth that pushes every artist to begin creating.
I call it, “peculiar vision.” Everyone has it. Just not everyone has the courage to follow it.
However, even though I could envision what I wanted to bring to life, I had neither the tools nor the understanding of how to make it happen. I knew nothing. And each time I put my hand to trying, I failed so miserably that I nearly quit.
In college, I tried writing a short story.
When submitted to the school paper, the editor patted me on the shoulder and said, “Stick to music.”
If you’re ever in a position to influence other people, never say something like that to an aspiring artist. If I would have listened to that
“editor,” I wouldn’t have two novels successfully released right now, and I certainly wouldn’t have been given the chance to be changed by the work itself—because the process of making art certainly does change you more than it changes anyone else who engages with it.
Thank God that I didn’t listen to that editor. Because what I saw in my head was right. I just couldn’t get it out yet.
So I put writing on hold. And a few years down the road, I bought some textbooks on the craft of writing to try to give myself the tools and understanding necessary to bring my vision to life.
Still, for years I’ve struggled to call myself a writer.
A storyteller? Maybe.
But not a writer. Because writers know what they’re doing. They have a certain level of mastery over language, structure, grammar, syntax, vocabulary, character design, story, etc. Right?
But here I was. . . I couldn’t tell you why my first book received accolades from industry editors. I didn’t know how I made something “good enough” to get published. I just knew that what I’d written fit the vision I had received, and other people seemed to agree that it was worthy of something.
The problem is that after you begin doing something professionally, you’re expected to repeat what you did before. What a terrifying demand for someone with no idea how it got done in the first place.
As much as I had confidence in my work, I was also frightened that someone would come along and discover that I really had no mastery over my craft.
No real idea what I was doing. That I was just following the vague ideas that popped into my head and hoping they’d turn out well.
For a long time, these thoughts embarrassed me. Now, for the first time, I’m comfortable declaring. . . that I am a writer. That no amount of naysaying from critical readers or professionals in the publishing industry can change that. That no bad reviews can stop me from putting my fingers to the keys and losing myself in a story I find meaningful and life changing. Because I’m not doing it for them.
I see now that every artist in the world has to come to these same conclusions.
The skill level and understanding of craft differs from artist to artist, but we’re all slaves to what’s given to us. We’re all just following vague ideas in our heads, chasing them down until we’ve wrought them in satisfactory form (at least to our own sensibilities).
I only write because the pioneers before me paved the way to make it possible. And they weren’t masters in complete control of their craft, either. They were just following their peculiar vision, same as me. Albeit dutifully and with skill.
“Self-made” successes are only able to declare themselves a success because enough people recognized them. Each time someone pays you for your art, that’s not anything you earned, but rather a gift.
I certainly believe we should venerate great art. Just not that we should put people on a pedestal the way that we do.
Praising people distorts the power and beauty of art—which is found in purity of expression.
Why did Leonardo paint the Mona Lisa as such a modest, odd-looking woman? Because that was his vision.
It’s a beautiful thing to bring about your peculiar vision, but not to turn it into a pride booster.
I can safely and comfortably call myself a writer now not because I’m “good enough” or know enough about the craft, but because I will continue laboring toward my “peculiar vision” no matter what barriers step in the way. Even if my peculiar vision is something stupid that no one else wants to read.
Why? Because I’ve been positively transformed by the artistic process, and I feel compelled to continue.
That is what sets an artist apart from a non-artist. Not the level of skill, but rather that your work erupts from who you are and can’t be held back without triggering emotional and physical distress.
So, by that definition, are you an artist? Have you mustered enough courage to pursue your peculiar vision? Or are you too afraid of “failing?”
We put labels on people much too freely. At least half of all good art is failure. To say otherwise is to pull the wool over our eyes.
The beauty of art is in purity, not perfection.