How to become an artist

writerIt seems to me that we spend our childhood building our initial vision of the world. We do our best trying to answer as many questions as possible, and in our eagerness to understand everything around us, we name things and label them and we think that we’re absolutely certain that things are exactly how we see them.

And I also feel that we always return to this initial vision.

Nine years ago, on a sad winter night, I decided to become a writer. I was only a boy back then, but I thought I understood writing well enough to embark on this strange and perilous odyssey. I thought writing was easy: all you had to do was sit down and write. I thought I had imagination, and I thought I was smart enough, and all I had to do was write.

Whenever I felt like it, I would write. I would write exactly what was on my mind, with little care for the words I chose. I didn’t care about that. I thought all that mattered was the story; the essence of the thing, not the outer layer.

A year or so later, I discovered an online forum. I had a lot of fun discussing with the members of that forum on a lot of different topics: from sports to politics, to books, to movies. There was a section on that forum where you could upload fictional stories, and the other members would offer you feedback.

It was the first time I decided to let someone else read one of my stories. And they all hated it. I tried to argue with them, I tried to explain that I was only writing for myself, but it wasn’t really true. Though I hadn’t been aware of it, I had been writing for everyone but myself.

So I changed my vision of what it means to be a writer. The outer layer was important. Without it, they didn’t care about the essence of the story. I began to read like there was no tomorrow. I used to keep a list of books I read and how much time it took me to read them.

And I wrote. I was now beginning to understand how the relationship between a reader and a writer works. How he translated things, how to present things in a way that didn’t sound foreign to him. I would concentrate on the outer layer, trying to make it as beautiful as possible.

And I realized writing was really, really difficult.

Given enough time, you acquire the vocabulary you need to make people see what you see. You develop the right set of skills and the patience and that fluidity you have to give to every story that makes people want to read it all in at once. One word after another, just like a big, big puzzle, I build my stories to impress people.

I cared more about what my readers would think than I cared about what the hell I was trying to say. Frankly, I didn’t really have something to say. I just wanted to write words so beautiful that it would make people cry. I didn’t like to edit, because I thought great writing simply pours out of your heart. In a way, it was like trying to write without lifting your hand off the page.

I did all that for a couple of years, always submitting stories to all the contests I could find. And it all changed when I was sixteen. I wrote a novella, and for the first time, I wrote the type of story I enjoyed reading. I wrote not what I thought someone else might want or need to read, but what I so desperately needed to write.

I wrote with that immense energy and frustration that comes from writing about the things you had and lost, about the things you’ll never have again.

For almost five years that was the best thing I wrote. Most often, in my darkest nights, I’d think that I had lost that elusive quality that makes an artist great. Of course, I still wrote, without much joy or excitement. I’d write for a couple of hours at most, when I had nothing better to do.

I stopped reading.

It was like a former professional basketball player spending his afternoons shooting hoops with some teenage kids. It was less than I knew I could, and even less than I thought I deserved.

Then came something they called “the recession”. Basically, my father, who was in the restaurant business, went bankrupt. I spent the next three years on the closest a person will ever get to being dead. I was just surviving, and in the chaos of never being fully fed I kept on writing.

Hope had died, I think, when I figured out that the publishing business was too complicated and perverse for me to conquer. Especially in my country. And there was a big, big ocean between me and that country I had dreamed about in my younger, more fragile, years.

It seemed impossible. I could recognize it, but I think I never truly accepted it. That’s probably my one redeeming quality: I always fail to accept the impossible.

Most people give up at this stage. When you can’t make money from writing, when no one readers your stuff. Art for art’s sake is the most difficult thing for an artist, but it’s the most essential stage one has to go through.

I was free to write whatever I wanted, whenever I felt like it. And I realized writing was, in fact, easy. All I had to do was sit at my desk and write. Using just words I could imagine into existence a world that didn’t use to exist. A world that could never exist.

I wrote because I was too afraid to speak, I wrote because I was too afraid to go out there, in the big world, and live. You see, most people think that in order to write something great, you need to live it first. You need to do stuff that’s out of the ordinary.

They’re wrong. We’re all ordinary, and only because of this art truly matters. We read, we listen to music, and we admire paintings on walls, because we want to feel as if everyone else is not too different from us. We want to feel less alone. So that’s not important. What really matters is having the courage to write the stories that really matter.

All those boring, boring facts that make you who you are. Or the terrifying ones, the ones you’d do anything to wipe clean. You need courage to write about that. Or to write about what you feel is wrong in this world, what you want changed. To write about the things you truly despise and wish gone, or the things that make you cry in your loneliest of nights.

You become an artist by figuring out what is it that you care about most in this world. So others will care as well.

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27 comments on “How to become an artist

  1. lbheffn says:

    I loved this piece, it is so honest and reminds me of my own personal journey as a writer! Thank you ;)

  2. Well you arent bad, not bad at all.

    My favorite lines:

    “It seemed impossible. I could recognize it, but I think I never truly accepted it. That’s probably my one redeeming quality: I always fail to accept the impossible.”

    Look forward to visiting this space very soon.

  3. allirani says:

    words so beautiful they made me cry…

  4. Prateek says:

    Honestly well written.

  5. DuvessSimone says:

    LOVE the way you write!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! You are surely a true artist!!!!

  6. paulaacton says:

    I think any one who goes into writing believing they will be the next best selling author is deluded, don;t get me wrong we would all love to be lol but the ones who last and keep writing even when they have to struggle to work jobs to pay the bills, balance family, children, relationships, and still write are the ones who have no choice, they have to tell the stories in their head even if no one else reads them, I believe there are two types or writers the ones who write from the heart, which is something that cannot be taught no matter how technically proficient a person is, and those who want to make a quick buck who read the latest best seller imitate it and try to cash in. I think most of us would rather be the first struggling on until we are recognised for our own unique voice then merely an echo of someone else’s. Keep writing one day your voice will be heard

  7. Imax says:

    all words are sincere. thanks for sharing us your journey.

  8. My favorite books are written about the complex relationships of “ordinary” people. People are a lot deeper than what we see on the surface. Best of luck on your writing journey! :)

  9. ray032 says:

    When I was 12 in 1956, my single mother was hospitalized for an extended period. Being the only boy with 3 older sisters, they, nor anyone else in my Family offered to care for me and I was put in a Catholic Boy’s Home.

    I don’t know how it happened, but I came into possession of a violin with violin lessons and I started to take them.

    It may have been due to a Cousin on my mother’s side of the Family, the famous Quebec violinist Arthur Le Blanc, owning a genuine Stradivarius. I did not yet have the knowledge, experience or practice to make any beautiful sounds with it.

    While the Director let me use his Office to practice, there was no end to the teasing I got from the other 50 boys aged 10 to 15. There was no adult to encourage me, plus I did not like the violin teacher, so I quit.

    No one can change the Past, but I’ve wondered, if I stayed with the violin lessons on my own, and with practice, learned how to make beautiful sounds come out of it, I would have been 17 at the Beginning of Rock and Roll. My Life might have taken a totally different path. Dreams are Important!

    I HAD A DREAM
    http://ray032.com/2011/02/26/i-had-a-dream/

  10. deanie2013 says:

    Great job with this, Cristian. I think all authors must write when it’s their passion. Then they detail what’s in their hearts, what makes them unique and special. I wish you many blessings. You are gifted.

  11. Yeah glad to see I’m not the only one who teared up. I’ve been going through horrible writers block this year. I want to say thank you, your words give me a much needed reassurance I can never, ever give up on it. And what you said about not fearing to just go into the depths of your soul and fears resonated with me, as much as what you believed when you were younger did. Especially what you said about needing the experience to write it, the misconception in that many writers have.

    I get paid tomorrow, if I remember I’ll donate something small towards you publishing your works because I feel like I just read my own story, more or less.

    You succeeded in having others care. Wonderfully written.

  12. bullroarin says:

    Your insight and honesty is incredible. It is the state of mind, and indeed lifestyle, many only dream about.

  13. I really liked the honesty and tone of this post. I can relate. If I had plenty of money to spare, I’d just hand over the remaining percentage of what is needed. Good luck on the publication.

  14. tt17 says:

    “Given enough time, you acquire the vocabulary you need to make people see what you see.”
    And therein lies the rub. Great post.

  15. I enjoyed reading this and I can relate. A writer goes through a variety of processes on their journey to become “published.” God Bless

  16. It is true that writing is not easy. Sometimes you have a good imagination but you don’t know how to write them. I don’t understand why today, there are some writers who are underpaid although everyone is aware that writing is not easy. Actually, this happens to the SEO writers. Anyone can be a writer, but not everyone has been given an incredible talent in writing.

  17. maggiebird says:

    Beautifully said. I feel the same way about painting. People say, “Oh, it must be so relaxing to paint”. Relaxing? Only if you’re not working at it. Never the less, I continue to slap pigment on paper. It’s intrinsically who I am.

    Good luck on the fund-raising. I wish I could donate more.

  18. Erin Granat says:

    So poignant and lovely. Thanks for this post, for reminding me why I’m here in the first place!

  19. rosellezubey says:

    Nine years ago I heard a great American literary agent say that you must write from your heart. You did that here. Well done.

  20. kjarts2013 says:

    It seems that the creative path is the same no matter which practice you undertake. As a painter I can relate.
    Nice blog

  21. Genevieve says:

    Brilliant post! I like to say that a good writer is a passionate writer, in fact I think that anyone who is passionate about what they do, surely is good at what they do.

  22. :) loved it! (especially your last sentence) I don’t consider myself a writer yet there’s no other way to convey what I want to share with others

  23. Jeanne says:

    Great post
    I read it on my phone – not my favorite device for blog reading but your experience is compelling
    Being an artist is a blessing and a curse
    :-)

  24. Christina says:

    I totally agree. I think the hardest thing about being an artist or wanting to be an artist is not to wait for others to consider you one. I think we grow up waiting for others to judge us, to make us something. My teacher said I’m good at English, and bad at sports. My friend said I’m clingy and the first boy I kissed first said I was pretty and after three years I was too fat. That’s how we grow up, that’s what we’re waiting for, for others, for education to tell us what we are. And if they don’t we get confused, we don’t think we are certain things, although we thought we were or wanted to be.
    And I think in art, it’s even worse since so many different people experience art differently, no one really knows what it is. It’s the struggle of my life. If no one thinks I’m an artist, am I one? This and the fact that there is not one way to become one, no path everyone has to go.That makes it hard to know when you’re there.

    http://intotheatre.wordpress.com/

  25. cheesyplinky says:

    Your writing has always been inspiring. Thank you.

  26. Beautifully written. I reblogged it and posted it to fb. I think most any writer has gone through the same fears, joy, worry, and hope.
    Keep writing–you are fantastic at it.

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