Most artists start out as art lovers. The beauty they see in the work of others inspires them to try their own. Their first attempts are likely to fall short of their vision. This is normal. To master any art form—painting, music, literature—requires education, skill, and practice.
It can be discouraging, this apprenticeship of the artist. The image in the mind is so perfect, so beautiful, yet we can’t bring it to life. This is where many artists stop. They abandon their dream, because they think of art as self-expression, not hard work. They want to bleed their creation into life, and watch it turn to gold.
This alchemy does not exist.
Artists are craftspeople first. It’s only when they’ve mastered the craft that they can hope to create art.
Dilettantes think their creations are marvelous, because they lack discernment—true artists have good judgment, and with work, they can improve. Apprentices who recognize their limitations have the potential to become masters.
Perfectionism has no place in a classroom. When you’re learning, you’re supposed to make mistakes. It’s okay if your work isn’t good enough. It’s just an experiment, to see what works and what doesn’t.
But no matter how skilled the artist becomes, their work will never feel good enough, never feel complete. That’s the nature of art. Mathematics has the luxury of certainty, while art is always subjective. Another brushstroke there, another comma here, might make it better, or maybe worse. It will never be perfect.
But isn’t art ultimately about human failing? How we manage to make a go of things against the odds in an imperfect world?
Great art isn’t perfect. It’s real. It captures what it means to be human.
To achieve that is as much as any artist can hope for.
Are you a perfectionist? Do you get frustrated when your work doesn’t come out as well as you’d hoped? How do you respond?
I began the day gardening, enjoying some of Florida’s first fall weather, and was surprised to come across this little guy while amending my beds with compost.
He popped out of the dirt as I was raking over my row. Not very cute, but friendly enough. And odd, because I didn’t realize toads lived in compost. And when I say “in” compost, I mean “in” as in beneath the leaves and dirt. He had to have been buried fairly deep for me not to have noticed him while transferring the stuff from compost pile to wagon. Huh. I always thought toads lived in dark, wet places–not dark, wet and dirty! Who knew?
But it was an interesting find. As I continued with my business of gardening, he happily hopped away, leaving me to wonder if he’d find his way back to the compost pile. Do toads have a sense of direction like, say, cats? I guess I could have followed him, or helped him along his way–except that I’m not THAT much of a nature girl. Sunny, outdoorsy, yes. Icky, yucky, no.
Doesn’t make me a bad person, does it? I mean, I regularly squash bugs and fat, hungry hornworms (to save the lives of my plants, of course). This little fella should be happy I left him alone! Hopefully, he’ll warn his friends that the compost pile is NOT the place for toads eliminating future such dilemmas.
Oh, well. Just another life in the day of a gardener. How did you spend your morning? Everybody’s life looks a bit different, doesn’t it? ;)
As I barrel toward The End on book number three, I’m starting to think of who I want to include in the acknowledgements. There are so many people to thank, so many folks who have contributed big and small to this manuscript, so many friends who haven’t read a word yet still never fail to encourage me along the way. “Thank you” doesn’t feel like nearly enough.
But by far, my biggest and most vocal group of cheerleaders has been other authors. Writing a book is a solitary venture, a six-to-twelve-month process in which we close ourselves off from the world and pound out a story. I know there are writers who do this in public, in coffee shops or restaurants, but I’m not one of them. I like an empty house and a do-not-disturb sign on the door.
And I’ve found that the only other people who get it, who really understand what it’s like to be me when I’m mired down deep in a story, are other authors. They understand the self-doubt and frustration that comes with each book. They know better than anyone else the terror when you send it out to your readers, and they’ll encourage you to do it anyway. And when your book baby is born, when it hits the shelves and the world wide web, they are first in line to help celebrate the big day.
That’s been one of the most pleasant surprises in this journey, actually, how supportive authors are of other authors. Yes, there’s jealousy and pettiness. Yes, it’s impossible not to compare books and careers and Amazon rankings. But as a whole, authors are some of the nicest, most generous people I know, and I’m blessed to have them as colleagues.
I have only a suggestion to share today, but I think it’s an important one.
I’ve tried to go on and break this down, talk about what it means to do both, how we might accomplish a soft heart and a strong mind, the benefits, whether such things are inherent or fought for, but it’s not for me to say. It’s different for each of us.
We find our own journey of heart and mind.
Here’s to yours. And mine.
In the past few weeks, there’s been a bit of a stir in social media about how many books an author should publish in a year. An author on Bowker suggested that four books was a good number if you wanted to earn a decent living writing fiction. Another on Huffington Post balked at that idea, fearing that quality would suffer. (The art! she lamented. What will happen to the art!)
This satirical article from Bad Advice for Writers should perhaps have the last word. It’s frankly silly for authors to debate the ideal number of books to write in a year, because it depends entirely on the author: their goals, their writing process, the time they have to write.
Prolific authors existed long before indie publishing revolutionized the industry. Often they wrote under different pen names to hide the fact that they were writing so much. Also, traditional publishing is slow, so even if you write four books a year, your publishing house may not be able to keep up with you. That’s a consideration indie authors don’t have to worry about.
I know bestselling authors who release a novel every month. That’s right, twelve books a year. And their fans love them.
Readers read for a variety of reasons. It’s not always about the art. They want to be entertained. They deserve a well-crafted, well-edited story that delivers the reading experience that they’re looking for and that they’ve come to expect from a particular author. As long as the author is able to deliver that consistently, it doesn’t matter how many books a year they publish. What matters is keeping their audience happy.
As a reader, I look forward to new books from my favorite authors. Some are writing so fast that I can’t keep up with them. But at no point have I ever thought, I wish she’d slow down and think more about the art! Instead, I think, I need to make more time to read!
How about you? When you see authors producing four or more books a year, do you worry that they’re not paying enough attention to quality? Or are you just excited that they’ve got another book out?
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