Having spent my college and then pre-publication years studying and practicing web design, I’ve been answering a certain question a lot these last few weeks: Did being a designer change and/or shape how you write?
This question has popped up in multiple interviews, and at signing events, and while I’ve answered it in those various instances, I’ve never talked about it here, on Pub Crawl. And I’d like to, because I find the topic incredibly interesting.
Design has in no way whatsoever influenced my actual writing. But my process—the way I approach the act of creating—and my general philosophies regarding it? Absolutely!
I’ve been trying to pinpoint why this might be, and I think it comes down to the simple fact that all artists are creating. Writers, designers, photographers, filmmakers, painters, musicians, you name it, are all trying to take something intangible that exists solely in their heads, and capture it in the physical world. This process, regardless of end product, is both painstakingly tedious and immensely rewarding.
Isn’t that the truth?[1. Artist unknown. I searched/googled high and low, so if anyone knows the creator, please let me know in the comments so I can credit them accordingly.]When I started treating writing like a job, I approached it the exact same way I approached design. That is to say, my core process was identical: Work hard. Seek out feedback. Revise and polish. Repeat. I also found that despite vastly different end mediums (words vs visuals), my general creative philosophy overlapped both outlets. In some ways, it was almost universal.
Just take a look at this list of key lessons learned during my years as a designer (aka my creative philosophy):
1. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Yes, there’s a deadline, but that doesn’t mean you should work as fast and feverishly as possible. Good work takes time, dedication, and patience. Sometimes stepping away is the only way to move forward. Letting ideas marinate is not procrastination. It’s a necessity and an integral part of the creative process. And chances are it will help you meet that deadline with less strife.
2. Revision is your friend.
Your first attempt is never, ever the best you can do. Not even if it comes out of you in a a flash of inspired brilliance. Revision is where a project shines, so roll up those sleeves, get some feedback, and dig in.
3. Really, truly listen.
It’s a natural instinct to want to immediately defend your work, but resist. Instead of arguing, listen. Deeply. As Neil Gaiman so aptly suggests, “When people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.” It’s your job to hear them, and then tweak things accordingly.
4. Surround yourself with smart people.
The best way to grow is to never stop learning. So read the works you aspire to write. Watch the movies you wish you produced. Go to conferences and museum exhibitions, and fill you life with people who inspire and challenge you, who make you want to do better work. Austin Kleon gives great advice: “Find the most talented person in the room, and if it’s not you, go stand next to him. If you ever find that you’re the most talented person in the room, you need to find another room.”
5. It’s supposed to be hard. And scary.
“An essential aspect of creativity is not being afraid to fail.” –Edwin Land | You won’t get anywhere if you’re too afraid to try. Know that the fear is good, that it means you’re growing, and accept that there are no shortcuts. It will be hard, but “the hard is what makes it great.”
6. The process is personal.
Don’t ever let anyone tell you there’s only one way to go about creating something. However you work is the right way to work.
7. Keep moving.
Do the best that you can do in the time that you are given, and then move on to the next project. Growth comes from continually challenging yourself, and as Neil Gamain states, “Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.”
Today, I apply these same basic design philosophies to my writing, although I imagine they could also be applied to film making. And painting. And photography. I think it’s safe to say that some aspects of the creative process transcend medium.
Creating is a labor of love. It’s exhausting—physically, mentally, emotionally—but it’s what makes any artist tick. It’s what we can’t live without, what we wake every morning itching to do. If you’re here reading this post, you know what I’m talking about. You are my people.
Do any of these pointers hit home for you as a writer? Anything you’d like to add to the list? Leave me your thoughts in the comments!