Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Artistic Catch 22: Should You Only Create What You Love To Ingest?

I’m in the process of trying to figure out what to do with the work that I’ve created. I have a collection of really good stories - a mixture of novels, short prose, short film scripts, and some half-hour pilots that might also work as web series episodes. Like most writers, I also have a few other unfinished stories in addition to my completed works.

The problem is that I don’t know what to do with them. I want full control of my work, but I don’t want to write novels or short stories. However, prose is the only storytelling medium in which complete autonomy works. Conversely, I would much rather use my stories to produce comics and/or films. But because I don’t have any skill in the visual arts, those mediums would require me to heavily depend on the services of others in order to create a finished product, something I don’t want.

The Ultimate Catch 22: Have great stories
to tell, but only being able to tell them
in a medium you don't enjoy.
It’s an artistic Catch 22. What do I mean by this?

The general rule of thumb for getting better at any artistic endeavour is to completely immerse yourself into the craft. If it’s novel or short story writing, you should be constantly reading. If you’re looking to become a great TV writer, you should analyze a lot of television shows. It’s the same with films, cooking, comics, etc.

Obviously, you’re looking at these things from a professional perspective. If you're a writer, then you’re not just reading other people’s work for the sheer fun of it. What you’re doing is studying the process, absorbing that particular author’s style and approach in order to learn how the best aspects of the completed work is accomplished.

The best writers read. The best artists study their form. I get that. I wholeheartedly believe in that. My struggle, however, is whether or not an artist should only produce work in the mediums that he spends the most time being entertained by.

The Union Cross Trilogy is the two-time
GloryReelz Christian Novel award winner.
I am incredibly honored by this,
especially considering that I didn't
grow up with a love for books.
I am the author of the Union Cross trilogy. I’m very proud of what I was able to do with the series. However, I don’t have any authors that I feel have influenced my novels. I would say, perhaps, Anthony Horowitz of the Alex Rider series. The reason I hesitate to say that, however, is because I forced myself to read his books. In college, when I first began my path to becoming a creative writer, I was told early on that the best writers have to read anything they can get their hands on.

I wanted to write stories for young adults, so I went to a local Borders and, at random, settled on a copy of Stormbreaker from the YA section. I read the book. I liked the book. Consequently, I read three more books in the series. But the process felt very artificial. It still does. More often than not, I find that I’m typically forcing myself to read books for no other reason than to say that I’m author and that's what I’m supposed to do. I’ve never read a book twice. I don’t have a favorite novel.

There are all manner of fans and authors who swear by the printed work. They love books. They love prose. They love the medium. God bless them. I’ve never been one of those people. My mother tried so hard to get me to read. When I was a kid, she bought me a copy of The Hobbit that sat in my house for ten years in virtually the same spot in my room. I never read past the second page.

Acknowledging this makes me feel weird. I am an award-winning author, after all. And when I say that, I don’t mean to imply that I’m this “prolific writer”. Far from it. I’m humbled more and more as the years go by, knowing that so many people pursue writing and never even get published, let alone receive recognition. So on this level, it makes me feel strange to be an author and not actually like the medium.

The truth is I got into writing because I wanted to create cool stories, but I had no other skills that would allow me to do so. I can’t draw comics and I don’t have the money to do films or hire an artist for a comic.

Television shows and films are the things that I ingest the most. I have never forced myself to watch TV or see a movie. In particular, I like all different types of animated series, anime, and animated feature films. Those are what have inspired me. I couldn’t tell you what my favorite novel is to save my life. But I can easily create several top ten lists for my favorite animated films and TV series.

An image from Project M, the pilot episode of a
planned web series. It was screened at the
2014 GloryReelz Christian Film Festival.
Unfortunately, I didn't have the funds
to complete all 14 episodes.
The problem is that I don’t know how to create what I ingest the most, at least not consistently. Over the years, I’ve tried so many things to remedy that issue. I took art classes my first year in college and promptly dropped them all about eight weeks into the semester, after it was clear that I had the drawing chops of a six-week old kitten on LSD.

Later on, after I settled on becoming a writer, I started looking into technology that could help me create images without actually drawing. And I found some cool ones, too. Poser and Daz 3D come to mind. The problem was that those products can be very expensive. Also, though I am proficient in most of your basic software, I lack the technical skills needed to operate the systems at their full potential.

My most successful attempt was Moviestorm, an easy-to-use software program that allowed me to create the first episode of an animated web series. I did everything - directed, edited, produced, and hired the voice actors. It was an incredibly fulfilling experience that culminated in a film festival screening in Detroit. The biggest issue here is that, because Moviestorm is easy enough for a guy like me to use, it’s very limited in the kinds of movies I can produce. Furthermore, hiring voices actors is surprisingly costly.

Writing prose is much easier, much faster, and far less expensive. You’re in control of every aspect of your story. You’re limited only by your own imagination. But I don’t like novels. I don’t like short stories. I only read them when I’m forcing myself to do so, which brings me back to my original question. Should an artist only create what he loves ingests? If you don’t like the form, why use it?

Should you force yourself to read or watch something simply because it’s in the field that you produce work in? An argument for ‘yes’ could me made based on the fact that artists do often force themselves to create. Just because we love what we do doesn’t mean we always feel like doing it. Whether it’s writer’s block or any other inhibiting circumstance, it’s something all artists face. I don’t believe you should only write or draw when “inspiration comes”. You should always be working on your craft.

Working on your craft, however, isn’t the same as ingesting other works within your medium. It’s like college. Forcing yourself to complete a class in your major is understandable. Forcing yourself into a major you don't like is big problem. There may be classes, assignments, and other requirements in your major that you may not feel like dealing with. However, if you love your major, you'll power through, get it done, and hopefully come out of it with something beneficial. But taking on an entire major that you don’t like can demoralize your soul, especially if you chose it solely because you don’t feel you have the skills to do something else.

So what do I do? I have so many cool stories to share. But I don’t have the skill to share them in the medium that I want. And the medium that have the skill to share them in, I don’t like.

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