I know my first quote is about not getting peoples’ knickers in a twist, but for some reason I feel compelled to dispel a myth that creative types are right-brain-only folks.
Let’s start from the fine art perspective first. Yes, people like Leonardo DaVinci are considered geniuses. Why? Because the man used both sides of his brain. What sets Renaissance artists apart from earlier European artists? (after the Classical Era) They rediscovered science. They created realistic art in both painting and sculpture because they took the time to truly examine their subjects. They started with anatomy, though the study of the human body could get them into real trouble with the Church. If you break a figure down into a series of geometric shapes you have the frame and rough musculature. Once your frame is in place, the next steps are fleshing it out and refining the details. Making a subject look real also requires a study of light and shadows. Then there are nifty tricks like foreshortening and perspective. Don’t get me started on the science of color. Both sides of the brain are working together to produce a piece of fine art, and the only way to correct something which falls short, is to study it analytically to see where you went wrong.
I will not deny it is difficult to detach your emotions from a creation (right side). There is nothing worse than the pit in your stomach, when you realize your brilliant piece of art falls shorts of your expectations. However, there is no hope of improving it, if you don’t disengage yourself a bit and take another look with the left side of your brain. It’s something anyone can achieve. But it does take a certain amount of determination, and you have to be honest with yourself that there is room for improvement. Sure, many artists get training in school. However, those who enter the field as a career are usually on their own after that, unless they work in co-op studios. Fine artists often don’t get feedback on their work until it’s put on public display. You have to develop some faith in both sides of your brain in order to succeed; and be willing to listen to an art critic or two.
Motivation makes all the difference when you are a creator. That first spark of imagination is exhilarating, but after that you need to keep asking yourself why that spark deserves to become reality. If it deserves to exist, it should be the very best you can make it. Those who read last weekend’s post will remember my obsession with horses and drawing them on everything, in the hopes one them may turn into the real thing. When I was four, I drew like a child that age.
My mom, bless her soul, always said the encouraging stuff like, “That’s very nice, honey.” My dad on the other hand, did not have a diplomatic bone in his body. I showed him a drawing one afternoon, and he said, “That horse has rubber bands for legs.” In my mind, I drew a realistic horse. I knew horses did not have rubber band legs. He hurt my feelings, and my first impulse was to argue with him. Only I knew better. Arguing with my dad was an exercise in futility. Did he kill my artistic spirit? Whether he intended to or not, perhaps for five minutes. Here is where motivation matters. I didn’t just want a horse. I wanted a horse I could ride. I certainly didn’t want the horse fairy to give me a horse with rubber band legs. Dad’s comment literally forced me to go back the “drawing board” and study my subject. The first thing I asked myself? What do horse legs really look like then? Miraculously, I discovered horses have joints.
By the time I was in middle school, I could draw a very realistic horse. Because my left brain got engaged in studying all the scientific details; joints, skeletal structure, musculature, light and shadows, colors and even differences between various breeds. In art, that is called learning to see. It is the analytical left side of the brain which gives the right side the details to produce a realistic image. Just like reading, my artistic interests expanded too. What I learned studying horses transitioned into wildlife art and botanicals when I was in high school. I could also do human portraits when required to do so, though they aren’t my favorite subject.
How does this information translate to the writer? Remember all that stuff Mrs. Buchanan taught me in middle school? Especially the technical stuff like spelling, definitions, use of those words in sentences, writing sentences, punctuation, stringing those sentences into a paragraph… The mechanics of good writing are rule-oriented and very much a left-brain activity. The same goes for story structure/arch: Plot, characters, conflict, setting, show-don’t tell… The right brain will provide the spark of imagination which motivates you to write that story. (Not to mention the boldness to break some rules occasionally, in order to make a better story; only you must know them first to break them effectively.) The left side will give it all the structure, details and raw materials (vocabulary) to create true hocus pocus. It will also give you the tools to go back and see why your cauldron exploded in your face.
I’ve had plenty of projects which ended up being stinkers, and correcting them always boils down to motivation. Can I live with it as is? More often than not, the answer is no. So, I’ll pout for a bit as a sop to my sensitive right side, then roll up my sleeves and figure out how to fix it. Sometimes, I do need to rely on others. I have an editor for my book and also started working with a critique group. My first draft was also entered in a writing contest because I wanted the feedback. I had just recently returned to novel writing, and felt it was a good idea to flag issues early on. I intended to learn from all of them, including my editor, by challenging myself to find and correct mistakes before he could. Each time he returned a chapter, there were fewer corrections. Including a couple with no changes. All because I don’t want the horse fairy to bring me a riding horse with rubber band legs.
Quote of the Week
The only way to go down, is to go up first. Unless you have a basement.