Artist to writer, making the switch

I recently got a great email from Mike, a student of mine, asking a very interesting and provocative question.

“I have a question about creativity that I imagine you could explore for a blog post – for years I was an artist and now I’m trying to be a writer. But I’m having transitioning problems! My ideas, no matter what the intended medium, usually come fully or pretty-much-fully formed. But, I’m used to having an idea for a concept or narrative present itself visually, and I’m really struggling translating the visual idea/story into a verbal/prose one. It seems I’m lacking some of the patience needed to spend days describing with words, what would have taken (only!) hours to draw. Using words to describe the scene instead of pencil lines, if you will.

“Have you come across this transitioning trouble before when dealing with multiple outlets of creativity?”

My answer was as follows. Art and writing have a lot in common. You start from general shapes and work backwards to specifics. You sketch in the broad outlines of what you are intending, based on an internal vision of what you are trying to create. You flesh out the lines and add shading and colour, and continue until nothing can be added and nothing taken away to match the perfect internal vision. It’s the same with writing.

You write little pieces of prose, which sketch out the overall shape of the piece, each one a piece of the puzzle, and gradually as you add more and more they achieve a weight or momentum of their own. You keep adding and taking away words until they are all connected, and nothing can be added or taken away, and it matches your perfect vision of what the story should be.

The difference with writing, depending on the length of the form you are going for, is that a single image or scene is not the full story. You have to imagine a series of scenes telling a story from a human perspective. You have to outline the characters and fill them in with colour, or telling details about their specific motives and concerns, and take this series of images or visions to a conclusion. Art is mostly single images which tell a fragment of a story, leaving the rest implied or at the discretion of the viewer to supply. It’s the same with writing, except you need to supply more mental images and suggestive detail and a sequence of such events to make up an entire story.

Thanks Mike for a great question. I hope that helps. If you have any questions about creativity by all means emulate Mike and message me and I will be delighted to respond.


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2 thoughts on “Artist to writer, making the switch

  1. Thanks for this, Phil. I am also a painter and found it very helpful and useful. Have still not got round to reading your other material, but I DO intend to, as soon as I have got certain pressing priorities out of the way!

    All the best, Daphne

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