By Eris Marriott
For writers, creating art is a bit different than the other mediums out there (music, dance, painting, etc.) but it is an art all the same. For the painter, paints, brushes and canvasses make up the majority of their portfolio and the types of paints all affect the outcome of the work they put in. A dancer may try different moves for different styles or build up certain muscles over others to accomplish that one part of their routine that just won’t come without the input. To work those muscles, they may go to a nicer gym where there is better equipment or more knowledgeable personal trainers on staff to help them achieve their goals.
As a writer, whatever your goal may be (accomplishing deep POV, cutting out your habit of info dumping, knowing when to stop using clichés and when they’re okay to integrate) one thing is certain: talent only gets us so far. Aside from practicing hard, writing has more to it than just sitting down at a keyboard and tapping away. I know that, for me, while much of my writing comes from my keys, much of it is also honed in by pen and paper. In fact, my “draft zero” is being crafted right now in a hot pink composition notebook from Walmart. That being said, I still chose the nicer composition notebook and I have about 100 pens to choose from to color code plot points on my poster boards, sticky notes in every drawer to put side thoughts down without interrupting my main stream of consciousness, and a pristine fuzzy notebook with my star sign on it to write down each plot point one more time before I stop to pen a chapter. Once I finish, I transcribe it in to drive, add the missing pieces caused by my impatience with handwriting and try to implement as many edits as I can before copying and pasting to Scrivener.
I’ve got book after book (most of them unread but at least skimmed through) on the art of writing, bookmarked images of how plot structure works and I’ve paid well over two-hundred dollars to get past query letters and synopses critiqued. And don’t even get me started on the costs of writer’s conferences. You might think: geez, writing takes a lot of money. But, here’s the thing: it doesn’t and it does.
As an analogy, I’ll use a personal experience to show you why I choose to pay so much to invest in myself as a writer, even when I can’t always use all the resources I pay for right away to improve myself and my craft. For those of you that don’t know: I play guitar (electric to be exact). Back so many eons ago (okay, two years) when I was sixteen, I got my first real guitar. It was an Epiphone. I didn’t have an amp, let alone a pick, so I used a thin seashell to pluck along at strings that had corroded at the pawn shop I purchased it from. When I got back from my vacation with my beauty, I invested in new strings, bought a pick and went to my first guitar lessons. After having purchased a beautiful amp, I played my heart out on that thing. I can remember finishing sections of my AP tests and miming chord shapes while I waited for sections to be called so I could move on to the next parts of the test. It became my world. I made strides like you wouldn’t believe in only four months. I practiced when I could (which was a lot more at the time than I do now, sadly) and my teacher was pleased with my progress. My mom saw my passion growing and went out and bought me the guitar I now use (and doesn’t fall out of tune every five seconds) a Schecter Demon-6 (sunburst red, for those of you drooling). I had everything I needed. Then, college came and I had to quit lessons. I wasn’t prepared for the workload and sadly, music isn’t exactly a career option for me (and kudos to you if it is for you, you are blessed).
A year and a half later, we had moved and my amp was broken. Desperate to get back into things, I signed up for lessons with a new teacher (my old teacher had moved, or so I’d been told) and I came in with an attitude of “I can pick this back up no problem.” For the first two months, I didn’t have an amp. My old one broke in the move and I was just desperate to feel the strings of my beloved Schecter beneath my fingers again. It hindered me to play without one; I made very slow progress. Lessons and practice became a chore. Finally, with what little money I did have (and with help from my mother) I took what I could get in the form of a Frontman 10G off of Amazon so I could at least hear myself play again. Let’s be frank guys: a $50 amp is good to hold you over for a while, but you’re still not going to see much progress in the way you play. Such was the case for me. Going to lessons became an embarrassment and I felt like a musical failure (which was not the case when I was 16 and going in and coming out with the confidence I needed to retain knowledge of chord structure and the knowledge that I was getting better each time). I’m still on the same song we started two months ago. But I know that’s about to change: my mother was kind enough to get me a Fender Mustang I and I can already sense the change in my musical quality. I’m playing, dare I say it, like I used to and I’ve only used it for one practice session. One can only stand so much of the gaping hole of what they are missing when they know there’s something better out there.
So, you may ask yourself, how does this compare to writing? Well, both music and writing are types of art and each one relies, as I said, on more than just talent and dedication. I have a talent for music—I know I do. Just as I do for writing. But my writing is way better than my playing right now. Why? Because I invested in my writing and let my music fall behind. While practicing guitar was becoming a chore, with each rewrite of my draft and each visit to a conference or each article/help book/support group post I read or bookmarked, I saw progress. With my guitar, because of my poor equipment, I did not. I began to hate doing the very thing I loved because I knew I wasn’t getting much better because I didn’t have what I needed. And, my friends, I do fervently believe that if I didn’t invest at least a little in myself and my crafts that I wouldn’t get any better at writing either.
But you’re scrapped for cash, you think. And I, of all people, know this. I’m in college, have a part-time job and a car payment. I’m even scrapped for time studying for my LSAT and preparing to take 18 credit hours in the spring along with a funded research project by my university. Money, time and energy are all scarce. And, I’m not saying that you can’t use poor equipment. I still wouldn’t change for the world that I got a Frontman 10G. It held me over until I could get something better and at least gave me hope by letting me hear myself play. And that’s important. It gave me the time I needed to save up for something better; to receive it as a gift, no less, was an additional blessing.
What I’m saying is this: if you can’t afford the nice word processor or conference or computer, that’s completely fine. I’m not a snob and I don’t want to come across as one. What I am saying is this: use your poor equipment for as long as you have to, but don’t be afraid to invest in the nicer things once you’ve saved up for it. Don’t feel guilty for wanting to spend that extra $100 on a conference when you could use it on something else. Everything has it’s value; if it’s the difference between eating, then spend it on the food, of course. But if you have that extra cash finally saved up to spend on nicer equipment, do it. Your art is an investment—for yourself most importantly. That writing class might make the difference between finishing a book or letting it rot in a drawer before you ever wrote the words “chapter one.” I know, for me, I came very close to giving up the guitar. When I didn’t have all of my writing tools, I let my skills rot untouched for four years; the quality of my work, though improved with age, could have been so much better had I known to invest in myself while I was struggling back then. Had I a better computer or more stationery, I might have finished the book I am still struggling with today. I might not have had to have rewritten it. But I don’t regret my past actions—I’ve learned the value of what I do have by having failed.
And that’s what I want to impress upon you guys: take what you have and use it to the best of your ability, but don’t beat yourself up if it’s not giving you the results you need. Sometimes, it’s nothing to do with you—it’s to do with your computer, your circumstances, or your time (which really is money, so I think it more than applies to this analogy). So while you’re waiting for your break or your raise or your new job or something to let you invest in yourself (because you are worth it) take some time to breathe and realize: you’re a good writer in that you’re trying. But if you don’t have the proper pens to write with, it might take you a little longer to get the results you want. And, that’s okay. Progress is more than seeing improvement—it’s being okay with the wait and the effort it takes to fully invest in something you love.
Connect with Eris-
Tiffany Heiser is the owner of Tiffany Heiser Graphics & Fyre and Brimestone Publishing. She is a self-taught graphic artist, an author, publisher, & a loving mom.