When your creativity has other plans

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Do you have a vision of the type of writer or artist you wish to be?  Perhaps you’re confident that you’ve found your voice and all of your work flows from that certainty.  Or maybe you’re still wrestling with the kind of work you want to produce.

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I’ve always loved horror novels and for years I struggled with whether I should write horror or something more general.  It’s not that I think a writer can’t do more than one thing, simply that it takes so much energy and persistence to write a novel that, for me, it wouldn’t have been practical to do both.  In the end, I did write a horror novel of sorts, but I placed the manuscript in my creative bottom drawer and I have no intention of doing anything with it.  I love to read horror and to watch horror movies, but in terms of writing it, I don’t think that’s where my calling lies. Instead, I write stories that don’t fall into a genre, but always contain a touch of mystery or magic, and that fits perfectly with my vision of myself as a writer.

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What I’m less certain of, is my vision of myself as an artist.  For the past few months, I’ve painted portraits – some of animals, some of humans.  I have form.  When I was a child I drew endless portraits.  When people visited or we visited them, there I’d be with my pencil and sketch pad, drawing them.  But in my head, I’ve never wanted to be a portrait painter.   In my head, I’m a landscape painter.  I’m inspired by trees, the sea, the wild places.  In my head, I see visions of the landscapes I will paint.  Yet of all the paintings I’ve completed this year, most have been portraits.  I don’t want to paint portraits, but I can’t seem to stop myself. Everywhere I turn there are portraits: televised competitions, magazine articles – it’s as though my creativity is conspiring against me.

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It’s not that there’s anything wrong with portraits.  I can be just as excited about beginning a portrait as a landscape.  Yet there is something about a place that inspires me more than the human form.  Even in my writing, that sense of place is key and it is often the setting, rather than the characters, that first sparks the story.

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So what do you do when your creativity seems to be leading you in an opposite direction to the path you want to take?  Do you listen, or do you fight against it?  I strongly believe that life sends us messages.  When something seems to be everywhere you turn, it’s because that’s where you need to be right now.  It wasn’t until I’d written my horror novel that I finally decided that wasn’t the path I was going to take and I felt confident in where I was going with my writing.  So perhaps this flirtation with portraits is just a step on the road to finding my real voice as a landscape painter.  Perhaps I’ll find that portraits are where my voice lies after all.  Or maybe there’ll be space to do both.  Either way, the messages are too strong to ignore, so, until they tell me otherwise, I’ll continue to find inspiration in the faces that sit before me.

40 thoughts on “When your creativity has other plans

  1. I never intended to write horror. It was sci-fi that called to me. It was what I loved to read and think about. But, when I decided to start writing short stories, the horror ideas came out first and I wrote them. Now, it is integral in my thinking. What I do a lot of is to write horror with a sci-fi background. Perhaps, you should do portraits with a detailed landscape background. Just a thought.
    Scott

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    • Thanks Scott, that’s an intriguing thought – and ties in to something I saw on TV recently, where one of the artists was advised to try just that. I’ll definitely think about how I could bring the two together – thank you.

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  2. I like this idea, Andrea. You’ve put into words something that has been hovering around the back of my thoughts but I’ve not quite been able to grasp the threads to make any sense! To go with the flow, I think is your over-riding message here and I think it’s a pretty sound one. Sometimes we can be over ambitious with a project and then be disappointed when we (in our own self critical way) fail. We need to take small steps towards whatever is our ultimate goal and, if it somehow takes us in a different direction for a while, then so be it. Who knows where it will end – and does it have to end as we first envisaged?
    This is definitely one to ponder. 😉

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    • Thanks Jenny. Yes, I definitely have a tendency to be over-ambitious and to think that every picture has to be a masterpiece! You’re so right, about things not having to end as we envisage them, so going with the flow seems to be the way I need to go for the moment.

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  3. I really like this piece. I am going through a similar situation with my writing project. For a few years I have taken it up and put it down for various reasons. During this past summer I started in again, gung ho. But as the months went along and I was writing and researching, I still felt something was wrong; it is too big a project and I am overwhelmed.

    I have taken to heart the timeliness of the season, turning within and looking at what it is I have already with this project and what it is I want from it, recognizing that some parts I can let go and just see what that feels like. I am still in the midst of this, but I am finding that there is a smaller piece that makes perfect sense to focus on and that is the ‘me’ of the project I have been looking for. But all the prior work is not in vain, as it will help me with context and the bigger picture in which I will work.

    I think it is true, as you describe, or what I have gotten out of your post, is that in order for me to get to B or C, A had to come first, even if it took me down a road that did not seem clear or even if I end up tossing a lot of the work. I could not have moved forward without putting in the time, getting that bigger perspective.

    Your portraits are so insightful…maybe this is the A of your B or C?

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    • Thanks Laurie, I’m glad that you’re finding a way through your project in a way that is starting to make sense. Yes, it seems to be that I should just go with the portraits for the moment and see where that takes me, though like Scott suggested, perhaps consider how I can combine more than one element.

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  4. I feel at times as if I have no single “style” for my writing. The two novels I originally drafted were two different genres, and when I began writing a few short stories on the blog, they were yet a third genre. The unifying thread between them is a main character in each is a female archaeologist. I’m not sure if that will ultimately be a strength or a weakness in the final works.

    Maybe individuals who find ideas everywhere and easily dive into a new work can be selective in what they choose to create. But for someone like me, who often wonders if there will be another new idea, maybe we shouldn’t turn away from an idea when it unfolds.

    That’s a long way of saying I usually follow when the Muse strikes. Sometimes spending just some time jotting down the ideas or some sample scenes is enough, and I can then return to the piece I want to focus on. Later, I can revisit those notes for the other ideas and begin working on them more fully. At least, that’s how I’m hoping things will work!

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    • I think maybe I’ve been wrong to question this path or that path, when actually there’s no reason I can’t follow multiple paths simultaneously, or no reason why I can’t dip into different areas, as you say – taking inspiration from one path when it feels right and having something else to concentrate on when it doesn’t. Maybe like you I’ll end up with a variety of seemingly different projects, but with a common anchor that runs through them. Thanks JM.

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  5. I love the portraits that you share and I’m impressed that you can also write. I think many creative people are always being pulled in different directions and I hope you find the inspiration to paint landscapes. Happy creating!

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  6. Thought provoking! Intriguing how you keep painting portraits instead of landscapes. And then the horror..really, Andrea ? 😉
    Most interesting that after finally having written the novel you found out it wasn’t really your thing after all..hmm

    Pondering about a vision of the kind of artist/writer I would like to be, hasn’t really crossed my mind so far, moreover because up until past February I never even envisioned myself as being an ‘artist’ or ‘writer’ in the first place (I still have a hard time to define me as such 😉
    For now I just enjoy to write whenever I feel to without much thinking about where I want to go with it. I guess my writing voice is still finding itself without really looking 🙂
    However, I do know that another creative voice is calling out loud for a very long time now (and it’s getting louder each day) so in this sense I could relate with the confusion of why f.ex. I started writing while ‘painting’ is something my heart is longing for .. hmm

    I do love your portraits Andrea. You are a talented and versatile artist. Looking forward to see the landscapes some day 🙂

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    • Thank you Karin! Sometimes I think too much, which may be why I have to feel that I have some kind of vision for myself, but following your intuition until your work just naturally develops is just as valid – and maybe more exciting! You can certainly call yourself a writer Karin, you shouldn’t have any doubt about that, but I’ll be interested to see where your other creative voice takes you.

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  7. I think the fact you continue to paint portraits means they give you more pleasure than you think. They are lovely pictures – you are talented. I can tell that landscapes and nature are the things that inspire you in your writing, but perhaps it’s different with painting?

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  8. Yes, I can definitely relate to the sense of being led by my creativity — a few weeks ago, I had a dream in which I wrote a lengthy, musical magnum opus that contained a discussion of a housefly and the ways in which it resembles a human being. It seemed like a huge challenge to undertake, given the strange, almost anti-popular music approach taken by the piece (to the extent I remember it), but I’ve decided that I need to follow the apparent prompt of the dream and write the piece. There’s something magical about that process.

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  9. Your paintings are great 🙂
    I find short stories a good way to experiment with different genres. What you enjoy reading isn’t necessarily what you should write. I love reading crime but I’d be a terrible crime writer. I prefer to write the novels that I can’t find to read, if that makes sense. This makes them original and difficult to place, as nobody else has written exactly the same type of novel. Hooray for the new definition of speculative fiction! I guess that your stories possibly fit into this category, if not slipstream, as they have a magical element to them.
    No reason why you can’t paint and write. I sing and write.

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    • Thanks so much Sarah, yes, it’s much more freeing if you can just enjoy a certain type of writing without thinking about how you would do it, or comparing yourself in some way. Some of my short stories fall outside the type of things I write in my longer fiction – you’re right, they’re a good way to experiment. I have a few ideas for short ghost stories at the moment, which isn’t what I’d normally write.

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      • I don’t know where you live, but Writing Magazine in the UK, has an annual ghost story competition. Can’t remember which month they run it, but I’ll try and remember to let you know when I see it’s on. They accept international entries, I think, as you can submit on line.

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  10. I love this! From this post, I see the value of simply going with the flow. It is so true, the world is full of signs each and everyday, pointing the direction we need to go. Our only job is to trust the visions and heart felt longings. (Have you read, ‘The Spontaneous Fulfillment of Desire’ by Deepak Chopra?).

    My art is writing and it’s not very disciplined…. I can’t write at a certain time everyday….if I do that I unconsciously begin blocking the very creative process I am trying to allow to flow. When I do allow the flow to release at its own rate, the results are AMAZING!

    I do so appreciate this powerful reminder today!

    Thank you!
    Lindsey

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    • Thank you for your visit and your kind comments Lindsey. I can’t ‘timetable’ my writing in either, but I have found writing this blog to be wonderful for giving me the discipline to write on a regular basis. I haven’t read that book but I will look out for it.

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  11. Isn’t it interesting when we throw all of our energy at something, then we find out maybe that’s not where we need to be? I know how you feel and it is very tough to swallow.

    I’m definitely a stubborn gal, but I also listen to myself. Sometimes it takes me a while to come around, but if something doesn’t feel right, then it’s not where all of the love should go.

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  12. Pingback: A harvest festival | Harvesting Hecate

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