Is a writer an artist? I am not sure. But the life of someone who paints, for example, and the life of someone who writes, is not so different. I am qualified to say this because my mother is a watercolor artist.
When we were growing up, my mom wasn’t an artist only after my brother and I went to bed or while we were in school. She was – and is – an artist all the time. We would go on vacation and she would bring her sketchbook and her mini palette and her camera. She’d sketch or paint whatever she saw, wherever we were. She’d take photos of barns and gardens and whatever else she wanted to sketch or paint later. She wore her artist hat no matter where she went (and sometimes it was kind of annoying, but I am more understanding now as a parent myself).
Even though I’ve always considered myself a writer, I am a little disappointed to realize that I haven’t followed my mom’s example. I don’t have the equivalent of a sketchbook that I carry around with me. While sightseeing, I’ve never dragged my family down a side street so I can take a picture of a particularly odd house to use in my next novel. In other words, I don’t live and breathe writing the way my mom lives and breathes painting.
I think I may have trained myself to ignore the semi-manic voices in my head, those voices that might compel me to write whenever and wherever. I am not sure why. Maybe because my career as a technical writer isn’t terribly creative and I don’t get paid to listen to my inner monologue. My mom’s livelihood depends on her ability to keep finding subjects to paint, to keep being inspired to produce art.
It’s not too late, though, for me to start living the artist’s life. Sure, I am stuck (by choice) in an office 32 hours a week. The days blend together into one big gray blob broken up only by the eagerly-awaited day that I treat myself to an eggplant panini at the cafeteria. But even that environment is full of characters who are sometimes stranger than fiction, should I choose to see them. For example, I’ve been dying to write about the guy who does Tai Chi by the bathrooms every morning in his Spandex. And I love to talk about my favorite sous chef, the Italian cook who makes heavily-accented small-talk while he grills my panini.* So there’s no reason not to carry a notebook, to let these characters and surroundings compel me to write and to go with it.
On a related note, Victoria writes about observing what is around you and recording details to use when developing characters. Her post is what made me start thinking about living the artist’s life and finding material in my surroundings.
*Not a euphemism.