I’ve been thinking about my creative identity – how I define myself as a creative person.
For years, that identity was tied up in the idea of being a writer. I loved playing with language, loved reading poetry, loved surrounding myself with people talking craft and giving recs for books to read and authors to seek out and people to network with. I was told I was a talented writer from a very young age (back when language was new and exciting and I had no inner critic), so of course I picked that up and ran with it.
The thing was, if I’m being absolutely, gut-punchingly honest? I didn’t actually write all that much.
I mean, I’d scribble out little scenes pretty frequently, with lots of witty little one-liners and quirky character descriptions. I had a notebook full of quotes and snippets of dialogue or turns-of-phrase that popped into my head, little bits and bobs of various images, settings, characters. I would have the beginnings for poems, one or two lines of verse, and outlines for the directions I might like the poem to go in.
But, like, actually sitting down and writing something of my own volition was not that frequent of an occurrence. It would happen occasionally – and when it did, it was usually pretty decent, and I became fairly well-regarded in my small circle as a “good writer” – but prolific I was not. Honestly, if the base criteria for a being a writer is defined as “someone who writes,” I was, the majority of the time, not meeting the sole standard to define myself as such.
I mean, sure – when pressed to the very edge of a deadline in my creative writing classes – I could usually knock out a narrative fairly quickly, but usually at the risk of incurring a surplus of anxiety and a shortage of sleep. And only – only – at the behest of an external pressure, and the threat of actual repercussions if I didn’t.
But drawing has been… different.
I’m still in the nascent stages – still very much learning, finding my style, my signature, what defines my art as “my” art, still figuring out perspective and anatomy and how to use all the tools at my disposal correctly. And yet, my output is so much more. I have unquestionably done more work as a visual artist in the last three years than I did as a writer in the last five. And I guess the question is, why?
Art isn’t easy. It’s not as though I can completely turn off my brain and just let my hand go wherever it wants (though, arguably, I guess some artists can do that. More power to them, I suppose). I still have to focus, sometimes really intently, on what’s in my head and what I need to do to get it physically down on paper. Manipulating shapes in my mind is not in and of itself difficult, but somehow translating to paper trips me up (I’m guessing it has to do with whatever part of my brain still can’t handle telling my left from my right or getting lost on what should be, by all accounts, familiar roads). I make choices and judgements about color selection, line placement, what brushes to use, making layer adjustments, etc. It’s not absolutely mindless work.
But there is still a sense of automaticity to it that I almost never got to with writing, at least not without a lot more struggle. If I could manage to get started on a piece, there definitely were times when I would reach that, and things would start coming to me, faster and faster, but it would take dozens of stops and starts, endless frustration, and the struggle to get there was often bad or discouraging enough that even when I achieved it, I completed far fewer things than I started.
Since starting visual art, there have been projects I’ve started and not finished, but “projects” in the sense of, “I have a plan for a multi-drawing series” for which I only completed, say, two drawings, but because I got distracted by another idea and veered off course – not because I abandoned a piece mid-brush stroke out of frustration. But those two drawings I did got done, they were finished, and whatever idea distracted me was also seen through to completion. Stalling out mid-work, and leaving a piece hanging is just not something I’ve really done with visual art.
I guess what I’m wondering is, for someone who so closely held the identity of being a writer, why was writing so much harder for me? Or, I guess, why is it so much easier for me to achieve that automaticity – that flow state – when I’m drawing than when I’m writing? Why is idea generation so much easier, why do I seem to stumble upon revelations and inspiration so much more quickly, why do I find myself getting lost in drawing when more often than not, I would struggle to find an “in” while writing?
Part of me wonders if it’s to do with neurodivergence, but obviously there are tons of talented neurodivergent writers; that being said, neurodivergence can “diverge” in many different ways, and I wonder if my unique divergence just makes visual art somehow easier.
With visual art, it’s less essential to create a full narrative, and easier to suggest an idea, a mood, a tone, an image (the things I most love to do while writing, the few things that always, always found their way to paper).
It’s easier to convey non-traditional bodies, gender, sexualties, relationships, without a lot of awkward description or exposition.
While I am still working to achieve it, I have definitely seen visual art that I would call “lyrical,” that so perfectly sets a scene or embodies a feeling, which is what I read for, and what I wrote for (which I suppose explains why the genre I ever found the most success in was poetry).
I still plan to dabble in writing; in fact I plan, this week, to start keeping a notebook, the way I keep sketchbooks – low pressure, low expectations, jot things down and work at them when it moves me (don’t think that’s not another thing I had considered – how binding myself so early in life to a particular creative identity put unwarranted pressure on me to perform said identity, leading me more often to paralysis than perfection – but I suppose only time will tell. This will be the first time I’ve truly tested that out). I want to try returning to form – which has always worked best for me – and trying my hand at some free-verse styled after some of my favorite poets, the ones who resonate the most deeply and personally with me.
I want to see if reaching that flow state is more about my state of mind, or about the mediums I’m working in.
We shall see.
If anyone has dabbled in more than one form of creativity, especially one that is writing or language-based and one that is visual, I’d love to hear your experiences in transitioning from one to the other (or balancing them; I have so little time to be creative, trying to keep up two separate creative pursuits feels daunting).
Stay safe and sane.