Monday, June 15, 2015

The Lonely Artist, Support Groups, and Productivity - Lauching the Famenous Arters

Most people who have known me for about half an hour know that I love to talk. And not just talk, but talk about things. I can form opinions within minutes on almost any topic. I excelled at speech contest in high school, frequently reaching finalists rounds and winning one year. The two most frequent compliments I get are "you sing well" and "wow, you're really articulate!"

In other words, I am super good at making noise.

Perhaps most striking (or damning, depending on your perspective) was this feedback I received from a beloved professor after a class presentation I gave in my final year of my undergraduate degree:

"You clearly really understood your topic, or at least knew how to sound like you do, which is often just as important."

Yes, my friends. There is mounting evidence that I sound smarter than I actually am.

The result of this is that most people are either shocked or think I'm delusional when I tell them I'm a rather solitary person. But it's true now and it's been true my whole life. If you ask someone who has known me longer than a half-hour - like someone I've lived with - they'll vouch for me. I spend an exorbitant amount of time at home, on a computer, typing. The explanation for why these two versions of me can coexist is really very simple. If I don't feel like talking, I don't go out in public. So if you are not currently listening to me talk RIGHT AT THIS VERY MINUTE, I am probably being quiet somewhere.

The truth is, solitary introspection is a prerequisite for any writer. When it comes to the work of actually writing, that involves sitting down, putting words on a page, and ignoring all outside stimuli that could distract you. This, of course, is true of several careers, but I think in writing, it matters even more. The act of writing is translating what goes on in your head into text. You must like being alone, contemplating your own thoughts if you want to get your head to produce the strongest possible product. There's something of a romanticism to the lone author, sitting at a typewriter all night, living off of nothing but cigarettes and coffee. Books are somewhat unique in that, by and large, they are the work of one person. One mind slogging it out in a dark, lonely corner.

But are they?

The truth is, almost universally, books come into this world with the help of many people. There are agents and editors and publishers, who help sculpt the raw text into something more polished. But even before those people, most authors rely on other sources of feedback in the form of writing groups and critique partners. It's at those moments that the Lone Wolf Writer has to step up and share their sloppy, cobbled-together pages with their first round of critics, in hopes of somehow making the manuscript better.

When I think of the things I learned during my Master's degree, by far the biggest lesson was the value of critique. Comments my peers made inspired parts of my manuscripts I might have never found otherwise. Classes were a call-to-action unlike anything I'd had before. Not only was I being forced to write better, but I was being pushed to write more. That opportunity to work and grow as a class was so valuable, I had to produce as many pages as possible in order to get the value I wanted from that experience.

Most importantly too, it took the loneliness out of writing. I'd never had so many people reading and responding to my work and there was an incredible sense of power that came from the idea that maybe my work wasn't just about me, but was about them and every other future reader I hoped to have.

All art has the potential to be lonely. It requires practice, patience and a kind of single-mindedness that makes you seem a little weird, further limiting your social circle. If you meet someone who excels at anything artistic, whether music or painting or dance, I think you'll find someone who has given up a lot of their life. So it's little surprise that few things give us power like getting help along the journey from another artist.

Since finishing my degree, that's what I've missed the most. Since Christmas, I've been living in Ottawa, working a regular job and fitting my creative work around it. I've managed to get a lot done and have some great successes, but I've also been very alone. I don't know any writers out here. I never managed to find friends that I could sit around drawing with either. The art has been solitary, and it's been harder because of it. But next month, I think I have a chance to change that.

In July, I'm moving back to the west coast, my forever and always home. It's not quite the nest of artistic support one might think, though. I didn't go to school there. Most of the writers I'm acquainted with are tucked in around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

But it has one, named Miranda, who happens to be one of my best friends. (You can read her blog here)

And it has a couple of artists, who dabble in comics.

And someone who plays classical recorder.

And a dancer/make-up artist who knows mysteries about taking a good selfie I'll never understand.

Our only problem is we're unorganized. Oh, sure, we've gotten together a few times before to sketch and talk about Disney movies. But I think we could do more for each other. I want us to. So with Miranda's help, I'm launching my own "all arts invited" artistic support group, the Famenous Arters.

Clearly painting with friends always
helps me create my greatest work.
Why Famenous Arters? Because even though none of us drink, someone managed to babble out that phrase during one of our drawing binges. (I think it was me. I said I liked to talk. Sometimes I don't know my limits.) And it speaks to our goals: To make art. To be famenous.

Famenous Arters launch day will be in July. Our goal is to hold an art related activity at least twice a month. At it, we'll report on what we've done and share new work if we're so inclined. Then we'll hang out and be awesome and have snacks and play games and make art and oh my gosh, guys, it's too much!!!!

At the end of summer, we'll see where we're at. We might even hold an exhibition.

I'm pretty excited about this. I want to force myself to grow as an artist, but I don't want to do it alone. And I want to see all the wonderful, talented people I know have somewhere they can go for support and motivation to stretch their craft, whatever it may be, a little further.

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