Monday, March 22, 2010

Practice Makes Perfect

I've read a few posts recently about doubt and fear, and as someone who is an EXPERT on self doubt, I thought it was time to throw my two cents into the conversation. Believe me--I know what it's like to have one of those days where you re-read some of your writing and want to delete everything, abandon writing, and maybe flee to Mexico and live off tacos and cheap tequila for the rest of your life. (see...I told you I'm an expert on self doubt). But here's what I try to remind myself:

Writing is a skill. 
It takes practice to perfect it. 

Yes, there's also talent involved. But not AS much as you might think. And before you feel insulted by that, let me explain.

Not sure how many of you know this, but once upon a time I was an art major. And my specialty was black and white portraits:

But the funny thing is, when I was first learning to draw, the thing I struggled with the most were faces.

No really. I can prove it. (I can't believe I'm going to post this--it's SO embarrassing)

This is a drawing I did when I was 14. 
It's supposed to be my kindergarten class picture, but...well... 
I mean, I wasn't the cutest kid on the planet--but I was cuter than THAT!!!

And I have hundreds of equally bad drawings I could show you (but I think that's enough humiliation for now). 

So what changed?

Well...I did.

I loved portraits. I wanted to be good at them. So when I was 15 I decided I was going to draw nothing but faces until I figured out how to get them right. And since I was 15--and totally, heartbreakingly in love with Gavin Rossdale--I decided practice on him (hey, if you have to stare at a face for hours at a time, why not a gorgeous one?)

At first, I still sucked:
I mean...this is really...REALLY bad.

But I got a little better...

There are quite a few more in this series...*blushes*...but I think I'd rather just skip to the end, when I finally figured out the basic proportions of the face:
Yay! It's not perfect, but at least he looks human!

It still took me a few more years to figure out how to make someone look like "them," and to learn how to shade and add detail and really perfect my style:

But I did it!
I went from making everyone look bug-eyed and scary, to being called a "master of the face" by my Professor (though believe me, I am *hardly* a master.)

So what's my point?

My point is, that art is something everyone thinks of as a talent you either have--or you don't. And yet, I did not naturally have the talent to draw faces. I had to train my hands to do it, and train my eyes to see it and THEN I could do it.

And in many ways, it's the same thing with writing. Sure, we'd all love to sit down and open a Word doc and effortlessly write the next Great American Novel, which will sell millions of copies and win literary awards and turn us into the most famous writer ever. But it doesn't work that way--at least not for 99.999% of us.  

Most of us have to practice. We have to write horrible first drafts that make us want to cry over how much they suck. But then we revise them and they suck a little less. We give them to our CPs and they point out some issues and get even better. And pretty soon...they're good. Good enough to get an agent. Then we do one or two more rounds of revision, and finally they're GREAT. And then they sell and we start the whole process all over again with our next book.

So what I'm trying to say is, don't doubt that you have the talent. You HAVE it. You have to just keep practicing on your draft until you finally get it right. 

And you will. 

So don't give into the fear and give up.

You can do it!

And if you need a cheerleader, let me know. I'll be happy to cheer you on!
*shakes pom poms*


  1. My life motto is that you have to fight for the things that are worth thanks for posting this. I'm glad someone else agrees with me =)

  2. I have a strong aversion to people who can draw AND write. I once drew a horse bit it looked liked a wheelbarrow.

    Seriously, awesome post. Self doubt and I are intimately acquainted.

  3. WOW! Very impressive portraits!! You're one talented lady.

    I've written three books so far. The difference between book one and book three is remarkable. You're right, you just have to keep doing it. And you just get better.

  4. I love how Gavin Rossdale looks like he evolved from Grog to the Gavin we all know and love. Great post (and love that you're an artist too--we have so many weird things in common)and yeah, so true, you just keep getting better!

  5. Oh Shannon! What a wonderful post!

    It is quite bizarre how much alike we are by the way...

    My specialty is hands and the minute details of botanical art (hence the reason when I interned as an animation artist with Disney my name was only allowed to be attributed to a section of landscape pictorials in one animated film).

    The flora was not as difficult to hone as the hands..It took me years to finally be able to portray life in my sketches of people's hands. I know the window to the soul is typically thought of as the eyes, but for me it is the hands that tell your story.

    You are right. I was a good at sketching, but I became better by focusing on the task and making it my own. Writing is definitely something that can be worked at & improved upon. I for one hope to never stop improving or learning...

    Visit My Kingdom Anytime

  6. What a great post! That first guy...ummm...creepy. But, wow, you're good now.

    Whenever I need to feel a little better about myself, I'll pull out some of my (awful, pain-inducing) first picture books and say, "hey! If I can improve that much in less than two years, imagine where I could be in another two."

  7. Okay, wow, first of all, your portraits are gorgeous!! And the earlier days ones are charming :)

    And then also, this is so seriously a post I can relate to, and appreciate reading! I've always been an artist, and have practiced my entire life, so now, picking up a pencil and drawing is second nature... writing, on the other hand, is something I desperately want to do, but am a beginner at... and some days I feel like I'm just so terrible that I cry. And HATE that! But it never occurred to me to relate it to something I have to practice at, like I used to practice at my art.

    Brilliant! Thank you!

  8. Excellent post! I definitely needed to hear this. Thank you for the encouragement. :o)

  9. Wonderful post! I love how you used your own pictures to illustrate this point (no pun intended). And yes, I'm a little jealous that you can draw and write!

  10. This was a great post for me. I'm just getting back into writing again after dealing with one major family thing after another and I've been afraid of what I'll find when I go back to my WIP. Thanks for the reminder that I'm practicing, so it doesn't have to be perfect yet.

  11. WOW you really are good! I guess practice makes perfect. The last three years my writing has really improved. (I think) But I have eons to go. Hopefully... one day.. :)

  12. Um... your portraits are AMAZING! And than you for your encouragement today! :D

  13. First, your portraits are incredible! Wow. That's all I'll say on that subject.
    Second, this is exactly the post I needed to read today. It seems lately I've been full of self-doubt, therefore, I haven't been motivated to work at all on my WIP. Thanks for the reminder

  14. You know how much I love your art (and my drooling students, too)! You rock, Shannon. Thanks so much for the words of encouragement - the perfect thing on a Monday. :-)

  15. Steph: I like your motto. Glad you enjoyed the post.

    Jade: LOL. I think I want to see that drawing. And if you need a cheerleader to send away that self doubt you know where to find me. :)

    Kelly: Wow--3 books. Way to keep going. Can't wait till you get to the point of publication. :)

    Frankie: From Grog to Gavin. *snorts* I love it. And lol, another strange similarity. Get out of my head grilie!

    Southern Princess: It IS bizarre. I had no idea you were an artist--and for DISNEY??? *swoons* And I agree--I love hands. I think faces and hands are the two hardest things to get right (and I spent a LOT of time on hands too. But my portraits are better)

    Karen: He IS creepy, isn't he? *sighs* At least I got a little better. :) And yes, it's all about growth and improvement. I have no doubt you'll write an AWESOME picture book that will be published, and then you'll look back on those old ones and laugh. :)

    Elegant Snobbery: Hi--thanks for the comment. Glad you enjoyed. And I know what you mean. I felt the same way when I switched from drawing to writing. But keep practicing. It is amazing how much regular writing improves your work. :)

    E. Elle: Aw, glad it helped. And hi, BTW. I don't think I've met you yet. :)

    Melissa; Your pun made me lol. And trust me, there are PLENTY of things I suck at to make up for having a couple of small talents. Singing. Dancing. Gardening. *shudders*

    Kayleen: It does NOT have to be perfect yet. And in my experience, there's ALWAYS room for improvement, so don't be too hard on yourself. Just keep going. You'll get there.

    T. Anne: Aw, thanks. *blush* And I think you're closer than you think with your writing. From what *I've* seen of it anyway.

    Valerie: Aw. I wasn't expecting all these compliments (but I'm not complaining!) Glad you enjoyed the post.

    Kelly: Okay, now I'm blushing. (and I think it's fairly safe to assume you aren't referring to my kindergarten portrait. Heh.) And I'm so glad the post helped today. I battle self doubt too-that's why I wrote it. Just keep going. You'll get your draft perfect. I have no doubt.

    Shannon: LOL-glad even your drooling students like. And thanks. I'd *hoped* it'd be a good way to start the week for everyone. Glad it was for you. :)

  16. Shannon, I have to agree with your professor--you are TOTALLY a master of the face! I can practically HEAR Marilyn's laughter. Those are amazing. *gushes*

  17. Thank you so much for posting this (seriously, it was wonderful), though I really don't think it's fair that you're allowed to be a talented writer AND artist (I seriously thought that first one was a photograph at first, and by "black and white portraits" you meant "black and white photography.") I got a B- in my drawing class (and really, that was pretty bad at my college), and the best thing I ever drew was a pair of scissors. Don't even get me started on the weeks I spent practicing depth of field (I think it's called something else in drawing, I only remember the photography words now) on the Gothic architecture at my school...awful.

  18. You know, I was having a totally suck-tastic writing day when I came across this. And you're totally right.

    I feel a lot better about my current (third) novel. Because I sucked my way through writing and revising and revising and revising 2 novels before this. So now, even though I'm in the middle of a revision that might as well be called a total rewrite on my third novel, I feel like I do have the practice. I'll totally make it as pretty as that Marylin Monroe picture. :)

  19. Great post, it is always a battle for me to maintain perspective, the problem is that I don't really regard writing as *work*! Do you still do art or are you focused on writing? I am curious because i feel kinda torn between the two, i dont have enough time to do both :( so i am focusing on writing but I really love to draw and paint and sometimes I wonder if I am on the right track- its like a weird love triangle!
    ps found you via twitter, I am a newcomer here and I will be coming back frequently!
    pps I really love your portraits! I will be sad if you say you have given up art- even if it's *just for now*!

  20. I love this post!! It's so true that through practice we get better. Those portraits are living proof! You are an amazingly creative person. Thanks for sharing these with us.

  21. Mireyah: Thank you my dear. Wow, I really wasn't expecting such wonderful compliments from people. I figured I'd get a lot of teasing about the horrible stuff in the middle. Thanks for being so thoughtful and sweet!

    Heather: Aw, I'm glad you liked the post. And wow--you thought they were photos? *blush* That is a HUGE compliment. And perspective (I think that's the equivalent term for depth of field) is VERY hard. I always struggled with that--a lot--so don't feel bad. I bet if you practiced more you'd be able to draw really well. And don't even think about arguing--you SAW those horrible portraits in the middle of this post.

    Alexandra: Sorry about the sucktastic writing day. Don't worry, we ALL have them. I'm sure you do have the practice AND talent. Keep going, I have no doubt you will rock your current MS. :)

    Michelle: First of all--Hi! Glad you found me. I love getting to know new people. Hope to see you back! As far as if I still draw...yes, and no. I do *try* to find time, but I have definitely deferred to writing recently. Every few months I get an itch to put some charcoal to paper though, and I dive back into drawing. And it's funny because I always worry at first that my hands will have forgotten how to do it. But they never do. I think that's the biggest advantage to practicing something. It becomes almost instinctive.

    Elana: Aw, thank you Elana. You just made my day with your compliments. :)

  22. I love that you posted your old drawing to show your progression. It shows it so clearly! Kudos for being an awesome teacher!

  23. O_o
    I thought the first picture was a photo! Woah!
    Kudos for having that kind of self-discipline and determination!

  24. stutters...what?! dang girl, you are amazing!!! That is some beautiful art!!!

    (And I so agree with you that it does take practice.)

  25. Dude. I cannot believe how talented you are. Seriously... the writing, the art, and this post kicks butt, too. You're right that talent only takes you so far, and then determination and hard work keeps you going. And you know what? You have all those things.

    Awesome post, awesome drawings. *huggles JD portrait*


  26. You're a great aritist! And this post was really spot on, nice job. I suffer from self doubt all the time. It's always good to know you're not the only one freaking out about it, that and the reminder that practice makes perfect because it's so true.

  27. I'm going to have to beg to differ on the statement about not being a master at portraits. Those are amazing.

    Even the Quasimodo version of yourself, because, well, I can draw stick figures and that's about it.

    Great post! Thanks for sharing!

  28. This is a great post. And you are 100% RIGHT.


  29. Holy cow girl! Those are fabulous. I mean seriously awesome!! You are talented, you may have worked at it, but come on - not just anyone can do that ;o)

    Yes, I think you're right - it does take practice. And practice we must for until we get it perfect, or as close as we can get!

    Great post ;o)

  30. I loved how you combined drawing and writing as a way to prove that to be skillful in something you must practice. :)

    I must say, I'm impressed with your drawing skills! I've always sketched but I never got the concept of shading down... I guess I just need to practice ;) Awesome post!

  31. awesome, awesome, AWESOME post Shannon! Seriously =)

    Though, I'm already privy to your artistic talent <3

  32. Thanks, Shannon! I revised twenty pages today, and then I read over the pages I'd just revised and ugh. It's been one of those days. I needed this.

    And if you're not a master, I don't know who is. Those drawings are amazing.

  33. Thank you for this post. I'm in great need of a cheerleader, and this was inspirational to read.

  34. Thank you so much for posting this, Shannon! This is the first time I've been to your blog and I'm honestly floored by how much this has encouraged me... So much it inspired a blog update of my own!

    You're totally right -- as a fellow artist, your blog update helped me realize that my process of developing technique and my personal style can apply to developing the very same things as a writer.


  35. So, so true. I'm an aspiring artist as well, and it's funny how I can give myself all the encouragement in the world when I'm trying to paint something, but when it comes to writing, I'm pond scum.

    Although I've always known it takes practice to get better at drawing, I have this delusional idea that writing is completely innate. Don't ask me why. Thanks for the reminder. :)


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