Moon, from the Tarot Card Series, acrylic on canvas board, 8×10, www.carolineallen.com
I am painting a series of the tarot cards in my studio. For a month, I painted three or four cards and the painting was conventional (well as conventional as I’m capable of), and the only quirkinesses were in certain heads tilted in odd ways, shoulders hunched in little girl consternation, a gold rimmed bugle.
Then two nights ago, I had a massive vision of the moon card. It was much more alien-looking, larger, quirky on all levels. More similar to my Budapest mural of a year ago. I got to the studio and painted the moon.
Now, I’m at the stage where my mind starts to interfere. Is it any good? my mind asks. Why are you doing this? my mind niggles. What do you hope to achieve? Are you really going to do 72 of these? Really?
This is what happens with writing for most of my clients, and for me but not as often as it does in the visual realm, perhaps because I’ve been writing fiction longer than doing visual art. At any rate, it’s hard not to judge your work, and to just let it flow out of you. In fact, with all my artist friends and writing clients, whenever we’re closest to our soul’s expression, we become the shyest. We’re like flowers just ready to bloom and we feel so gentle about it. We find none of the spit and bluster of our earlier attempts at writing and art, we’re as delicate as a lady bug. And it feels good, but it also feels so humble…nothing like the big brash New York Times bestseller we thought we’d crank out, full of super heroes and super plots. (But I actually think this humility is more a sign of future NYT success than anything — it just feels so humble and we can’t believe real artistic success could be this humble.)
A few months ago, I had a vision of painting the tarot cards on old New England doors, doors of solid wood with chips and bangs going back at least a hundred years, painted so many times with so many colors that where they are chipped there is a kaleidoscope of color. The doors could represent doorways to imagination, to the mystical, to other realms of understanding and perception.
Isn’t that sort of clichéd? my brain argues. Are you really going to get 72 doors? it demands. Where? Where are you going to get them? Where are you going to put them? It’ll overwhelm your studio.
When we’re writing, the same thing happens. You’re 50 and a housewife, what makes you think you can write a novel? Are you really going to be able to write 300 pages?
You work full time; might as well just put any notion you have of being a writer off until you retire.
OK, so you’ve written a few chapters, aren’t your characters too normal and boring? Shouldn’t they be more dramatic? Are you sure this is even worth the effort?
So, I realized how to handle this. I don’t need to paint 72 doors. Right now I need to paint one door. I already in fact have two old doors, hinged together in my apartment and used as a space divider. I already have two doors! Paint one. Paint. One.
The same is true for writing. Write one story. One. Write one event that happened to you, beginning, middle, end. Write one fantasy/sci-fi piece you can’t get out of your head. Write one chapter. Then, and I believe this to be true, as well, look for places it can be improved and work on it. But don’t do this improvement process until you’ve written the work down. You can’t even get the damned art piece or story out of you and on the paper if you listen to the brain from the get go. Later it’s OK to deepen the work. I don’t really believe that whatever comes out of you roughly should be published without another look. Like my Moon card, I’ll repaint it on a door and see how I might improve and deepen it. (I think the moon needs to be smaller and more precious, the color of paint more irridescent, for example.) And door four of say the Magician card will be an improvement on door one — that’s OK, it’s a process!
After you’re done with the story or book, send it out, for feedback or publication or both. While our brains are telling us it can’t be done, we’ll just quietly be doing it. Ha ha, brain, fooled you!!
For a free intitial one-hour writing consultation, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and see my website www.artofstorytellingonline.com. We can discuss your writing goals and writing projects and what I offer.