How does one ‘become’ a writer or artist?
Is there a beginning, a middle, and an end to the journey of a creative individual? Is there a discernable point that quantifies when an artist has ‘arrived’?
During a virtual author visit a few weeks ago, a student asked “How did you become an author?”
It’s something I get asked many times by young people. “What inspired you to become…” “When did you start becoming…?”
I usually answer with a story of ‘oh, back when I was younger I dreamed of being an author…and then later, life got in the way…but then, as I got older, I decided…and now…’, or a variation on that theme.
I try to draw as clear a path as possible to let young authors know that we all start somewhere, but my ‘origin’ story can be told in so many different ways, from so many different perspectives, and they would all be a narrative that is true.
As far as I can tell.
Oftentimes, though, I wonder for myself; how did I get here? Were there a series of steps, an XYZ, I could dilute to explain how I became an author? Or, might there have been a glitch along the way that would have tossed me in a different direction to become an astronaut or a florist or a postal worker instead?
When there was a fork in the road and I went left, where would I be if I’d gone right?
An author or artist genesis story is often so complex.
It is frequently a childhood dream, one of wishes and wonders, that (for me and many others) gets lost along the way, dashed by uncertainties, discouraged by an unkind word or even faltered by our own insecurities.
Then somewhere, somehow, that artistic identity starts to coalesce and ‘become’. How many tries and missteps does it take to set you on the creative path? In the writing world, we often refer to the beginning of a project as a ‘shitty first draft’. The concept being that your first attempt at telling a story will most likely be terrible and will not (at all) fit the concept of what you had in your head.
Same goes for the story of an individual’s creative path.
try, fail, try, fail
repeat, repeat, repeat.
This can be so discouraging. You may give up at this point and think ‘I am not cut out for this story’ or ‘I am not made for this work’ and ‘I thought I could pull this off but I clearly cannot’.
Ok. Take a breath.
You know how they say, things on social media are not exactly as they appear? That it took 18 clicks and 3 filter settings to get that perfect shot?
Pause for Story Time
Similarly, it took many attempts for me to finally have a book published. Dozens of manuscripts. Hundreds of editorial rejections. A few ‘almost, but not quite’ to the point that I honestly felt it would never happen for me.
But things started to happen, little by little, bit by bit. An article here, a blog post there, and eventually, actual novels and books!
So, was I incredibly excited to finally have a picture book contract for I DARE YOU NOT TO YAWN after years, and years, and many, many rejections for it and other picture book manuscripts?
Oh my stars, YES.
Finally, a story of mine, in a format I loved, was going to be published. This manuscript had been through many, many revisions already, had been critiqued by other authors I admired, had been scrutinized, pulled apart and rebuilt so many times! So it was sweet, sweet, satisfaction feeling the validation of knowing it would be finally published.
Yippee! Had I finally arrived? NOT SO FAST, kiddo.
From the time I DARE YOU NOT TO YAWN was accepted, to the time it was actually published, it took another FOUR YEARS and EIGHT substantial revisions to get it to press. Many times along the way I thought, I can’t do this. I don’t know how to get from X to Y to Z. My editor was extremely patient, and pushed me to continue to evolve the story. To stay the path. To keep the faith.
I chronicled the excruciating process HERE on Debbie Ridpath Ohi’s INKYGIRL blog.
What I learned, and what I keep learning every darn time I write a new book: revision is where the MAGIC happens. That you can start with an idea but that is just the start. The block of clay. The medium and the starting point. The true art, the essence of your vision, is hidden in that clay and can only be revealed and come to fruition by stripping away at the outer layers, mold and remolding, to finally have your vision come through.
The point though, is that you cannot revise a blank page.
Everyone starts somewhere.
Even this article, as I write it, is a series of disjointed ideas and random sentences, which I hope to revise into something cohesive and legible so you, dear reader, can make some sense of what I’m trying to articulate.
Because guess what?
Just like our art, we AS ARTISTS are all messy drafts of shapeless ideas, nebulous thoughts, and malformed visions, of who we ultimately are meant to become. It is only by trying new things, being open to change, experiencing new thoughts and experiences that we are able to evolve as authors and artists and work toward ‘becoming’.
Will we ever even ‘get there’? Will there be a final revision of ourselves, just like the book on the shelf or the art on the wall?
I hope not.
Because revision truly is where the magic happens.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hélène Boudreau grew up on an island surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and now writes fiction and non-fiction for kids from her land-locked home in Markham, Ontario. Her books are available in bookstores and libraries across Canada and around the world and have been translated into six languages.
Her picture book, I Dare You Not to Yawn, is a Parents’ Choice Award winner and a SCBWI Crystal Kite Award winner. Her tween novel, Real Mermaids Don’t Wear Toe Rings is a Crystal Kite Award Finalist.