Sketches in pictures, sketches in words

I’ve been feeling very visual lately, really eager to translate the world around me into my own sketches. Last Friday, I stopped at University Art and picked up some new soft pencils (woodless 4Bs = happy me) and a travel sharpener, and three new pens.

Palo Alto street sketches

Friday in Palo Alto

While I was making the above sketch, I realized just how badly I need real-life practice in non-human subjects, so I’ve resolved to go out on more sketching dates. I even managed to do this while in Santa Barbara over the weekend; while the other girls were watching Sex and the City 2, Wei-Ling and I sat at Pinkberry, where she read her Kindle and I sketched.

Pinkberry sketches

Sunday in Santa Barbara

Doing these field sketches has given me a better sense of where my drawing experience is deficient, so I’ve got a much better sense now of what I need to work on in future.

All this drawing would be fantastic, except that I’m supposed to be concentrating exclusively on writing right now! Augh! It’s not that I haven’t been writing — I’ve actually been filling up my journal at quite a clip — but that I’ve been neglecting my VONA story, and it’s due on Monday. I’d say I’m about 50% done with a very sketchy first draft of it, and since these things can’t be rushed, it’ll likely still be extremely rough by next week. I suspect my classmates are all much more experienced writers, but I’ve read over our mentor’s teaching philosophy and it reassures me somewhat. I went through so much of grad school feeling on the cusp of being exposed as a fraud; I refuse to feel that way as an artist as well.

I was writing this all out in this morning’s Pages, and it occurred to me that I tend to hold my fiction projects at arm’s-length because I’m so much less practiced at fiction than at other types of writing. I break down my writing in this way:

  1. Self-expressive writing. I hunt out the right words to convey my feelings, thoughts, observations, and confusions. How can I invite other people to experience what’s in my own head?
  2. Nonfiction writing. I describe something that is relatively unknown to the reader; I aim to document, to analyze, and to educate.
  3. Fiction. There is a little overlap between this type of writing and the two previous, but fiction is very much its own animal: there is a plot, characters, and requirements for elements like pacing.

I’m proud that I have a well-established, regular writing practice these days, but it is almost entirely made of up #1 and 2. My morning pages, my blogs, my shop descriptions, even emails and letters to friends — none of these give me any exercise in making up stories or fleshing out characters. Self-expressive and descriptive writing are now so habitual that I can articulate practically any thought without much strain, but fiction, while exhilarating, is like pulling out my internal organs: I can only do it for so long before I’m left feeling gutted. (Sorry, I know that’s a disgusting metaphor.) I enjoy it, but it takes so much out of me, I’m always reluctant to get started.

As always, writing this out made me feel better. Just knowing that it’s my sheer inexperience with fiction that keeps me away from it, makes me more comfortable tackling it when I need to. And I do need to, so… it’s off to the rough draft I go!