Creative Professions, Creative Outlets


Last Friday I hung my first one-man photography show in a local gallery.  I’ve been a dedicated amateur photographer for a long time now, though I’ve only gotten serious about it in the last four years or so.  I have photos hanging in a second gallery here in town, alongside the work of other local artists.  But as I say, this new exhibit, which opened Monday and runs through mid-May, is my first solo venture.

What does this have to do with writing?  Nothing.  And everything.  Allow me to go off on another artistic tangent.  I’m also a musician.  I sing, and I’ve been playing guitar for over thirty years.  I played quite a bit when I was younger — high school, college, graduate school.  Once I started writing fiction professionally, and I assumed for a long time that this was because my profession provided me with the creative outlet I used to get from my music.  I’ve come to realize, though, that the reason was slightly different.  I’ve always been a decent singer and at my best I played guitar pretty well.  But I never learned to write my own songs, at least not good ones.  I got a rush from performing, but once my performing days were over I began to lose interest.  It wasn’t that writing replaced music as my creative outlet.  Rather, music no longer felt creative.  I can play lots of songs — and I enjoy singing for my girls — but I don’t create music so much as replicate other people’s songs:  James Taylor, Paul Simon, the Dead, John Hiatt, Jackson Browne, etc.

Photography, on the other hand, is all mine.  It is an entirely creative endeavor and it draws upon my artistic instincts in ways that complement my writing.  Part of what I do as a writer, in addition to creating characters and worlds and storylines, is translate visual imagery to words.  Last week Catie wrote about visualization, and I commented that I do indeed visualize as I write.  I picture a scene or a person in my mind and then describe what I “see”. 

With photography, I don’t have to translate.  It’s a different kind of challenge.  Photography is about finding a story without the use of words.  It’s about looking at a scene or an object and deciding what to include in the image and what to leave out, how to frame it, how to orient it.  In a sense it’s about imposing order and narrative on visual stimuli that are, at times, inherently chaotic.  It’s about finding patterns — not necessarily symmetrical patterns of the type we’re taught to make as children, but patterns that draw the eye to certain elements of the image.  It’s about light and shadow, color and form, movement — yes, movement, even in a still photo — and stasis.  In many ways, I believe photography is the perfect creative outlet for a writer, because writers and photographers approach imagery and narrative from opposite directions and wind up in very similar places.

Photography forces me to see details and visual motifs that I believe I’d otherwise miss.  And this, in turn, enhances the descriptive passages I put in my writing.  I think that my interest in music has helped me find rhythms and dynamics in my storytelling that improve my prose. 

But that’s just me.  The larger point I’m trying to make is that like so many other writers I know, the creativity demanded of me by my profession doesn’t satisfy completely my artistic needs.  I know so many writers who are also painters, musicians, photographers, dancers.  This isn’t to say that I don’t know lots of musicians or visual artists who pursue other forms of art, but this is so prevalent among the writers I know that it makes me wonder if there’s something larger at work. 

Is there something inherent in writing that makes us seek out other arts as well?  Are those of you who write professionally also engaged in other artistic pursuits?  How do they influence your writing, if at all?  For those of you who write more as a hobby, do you have other creative hobbies as well, and if so, how does these other forms of creativity interact with your writing?


7 comments to Creative Professions, Creative Outlets

  • Brian

    Well, Im not a professional writer–yet 😉

    But I do play music and sing and paint, and I have tried to write songs as well. The problem is Im not good at writing song lyrics. I think Im better at writing prose than poetry or song. I think there is a fundamental difference in different styles of writing, but I havent thought about much to be able to figure out what it is.

  • I work in a middle school library, so no one bats an eye when they find out I write. But their unbatted eyes goggle at me when they discover my hobby – I’m a belly dancer.

    I started six years ago, and in that time I’ve become pretty good (well, no one threatens to toss tomatoes at me, so I’m happy.) It’s increased my self-esteem and helped me develop a public persona, and it gives me a physical outlet (which is vital when one spends so long in a chair.) When I reach a literary impasse, I’ve been known to get up, put on some music and shimmy until I’m panting. It seems to help break the block.

    I think there is something about writing that makes us need to physically experience other activities. It’s harder for me to write about something unless I’ve seen it or done it. Maybe it’s that visualization thing….

  • David, I totally understand. I have taken up a lot different creative hobbies over the years, most as part of research. Misty’s interest in belly dancing got me interested as well, and my new character, Jane Yellowrock, a skinwalker, has taken lessons and dances all the time. Do I hear the word tax write off?

    I have learned to bake bread, garden, make herbed vinegars, etc. But the most fun, totally *just for me* creative hobbie I have is jewelry making. I took it up when I first came up with a jewelry-making character, which was about 3 or 4 years ago.

    I can sit down and start to work (read play) and my mind just goes empty. No plans, no scenes, no lab stuff, no character stuff, just me and the pearls or stones or glass and wire…. I adore it. I need it.

    It’s been 6 months since I got to play with my jewelry, due to writing and day job and, yes, taking up kayaking for the next Gwen book. But after June…after deadlines…I am so back at it.

  • Michele Conti

    I think every creative person has more than one interest. Singers who dabble in acting. Actors who dabble in singing. Poets who dabble in prose, sometimes they do well sometimes they don’t, but who cares…its the fact that they try that matters.

    Though sometimes we wonder how they make as much money as they do, in their trying.

    I write, poetry and prose, I particularly enjoy taking fascinatingly cute pictures of my kittens and posting them on monthly facebook contests. I’m big with sky pictures.

    Ryan loves to catch these amazing pictures of animals as he travels along the highway. A herd of elk here, a lone wolf there. Sometimes I think it’s the only thing revolving around his job that gives him a sense of peace.

    I used to think I could sing. I was in choirs since I was small. Turns out, I can only harmonize, can’t carry a tune on my own for anything. I stroke that off my list of creative endeavors a few years ago. TeeHee.

    Sometimes the photography helps the writing, sometimes its distracting. I usually find Ryan’s photographs more helpful in writing than I do my own. I rarely get out to take pictures of anything other than our cats now, that’s partially to do with it. of course, anytime I see something I want to take a picture of I don’t have my camera.

    Need a bigger purse? 🙂

  • Is there something inherent in writing that makes us seek out other arts as well? Are those of you who write professionally also engaged in other artistic pursuits? How do they influence your writing, if at all? For those of you who write more as a hobby, do you have other creative hobbies as well, and if so, how does these other forms of creativity interact with your writing?

    This is weird — my S.O. and I were discussing this just last night.

    My own creativity won’t allow itself to be funneled down into a single form of expression. I play classical guitar for my own pleasure, and through music I understand rhythm, cadence, and structure. Photography taught me how to frame the subject to lead the eye, and how to balance the lights and darks within the composition,… and just how stinky stop-bath can be.

    After several years as a freelance illustrator, I now prefer to capture my own visions in paintings and drawings, deciding what to include in [or omit from] the composition, or just hint at within the visual narrative. This all goes into the writing, too.

    And there’s the fencing I did for a few years [and yearning to get back into it] that helps me write my swordplay scenes.

    Yep. Everything goes back into the writing.

  • Great comments. I think Michele is right: creativity begets more creativity, and there are lots of artist types out there who engage in a whole host of artistic pursuits. But I also know from experience that writers seem to be particularly passionate about other forms of art. Maybe it comes down to what Radish (great pseudonym, by the way) seems to be getting at. Writers constantly draw upon experience, and other forms of art provide grist for the mill, as it were.

    In any case, fun stuff.

  • I aim to make writing more of a profession, so I guess I am somehwre in the middle. Right now I discovered that I really want to delve into other arts. I can’t sing, I can’t play an instrument although I would like to be able to play the cello or the piano, but I’m drawn to photography and found out that I can draw like floral motives and swirls and jagged lines like symbols or tattoo designs and I will be starting to harness these small talents and be as creative as I can. I think that no matter what artists you are you always appreciate and feel pulled towards other forms of self expression.