The Beauty of Structure

On Saturday my youngest daughter turned fifteen and I wanted to make her a card or some sort of collage. I had a three-hour window while she was out so I went to the art space in our basement and started rooting around in my supplies without any idea in mind. A couple of silver triangle boxes caught my eye. I covered each with a layer of gesso and kept going through all my paper and ephemera. After half an hour I found myself getting frustrated and a little impatient that nothing was coming together. My whole art process is usually very intuitive. Even when I don’t start with anything particular in mind, I trust that a vision will emerge through the process of creating. It always has. Only that day I had a small window and it was closing fast. So, I texted my daughter, asking her what her favorite colors were. Answer? Blue, green and orange. As I combed through all my supplies again, this time with a particular palette in mind, I began to accumulate a whole stack of paper and images. Within an hour I had a finished collage that I loved.

The lesson? That structure is a beautiful thing. A necessary thing. Structure. It sounds so hard and counterintuitive to the soft swirly world of creativity. But structure is the container that holds and shapes your ideas, giving them space to materialize instead of just floating in your head. When I first started my daughter’s collage, I had infinite possibilities which sounds rather freeing but, in fact, it can be just the opposite. Too much freedom can leave me flailing. Once I had a color palette, that became my structure and I began to see my materials through the prism of that structure. Just as children need boundaries, so does our writer/artist. The trick is finding the appropriate structure for each project whether it’s a color palette, a certain image or material or technique. For writing it could be a genre, word count, prompt, timeframe, the use of chapters or not. One teacher had us write a story using the each letter of the alphabet, in order, to start each sentence. Talk about a structure! The point is, structure, while it sounds like it should be confining is actually freeing.

Let me know how structure figures into your own work. I’d love to hear from you.

Oh, and here’s the finished piece:

A Good Start

Tried something new this morning. I haven’t even had breakfast yet and it’s almost 10:00. I came right into my office, turned on the space heater, lit come candles and meditated for ten minutes. I think that is going to be critical part of my repertoire. It  builds the focus muscle, something that writing longer and deeper definitely calls for. Then I went straight to my desk and wrote three morning pages then went straight to my writing practice notebook, set the timer for fifteen minutes and wrote from the prompt for today from “A Writer’s Book of Days” by Judy Reeves. Instead of just writing whatever came to me, I focused it on my current character and story and wrote an actual scene, not merely a stream-of-consciousness rant. Then, as Priscilla Long suggests in “The Writer’s Portable Mentor” I immediately typed up what I had written. So many good things about this: I am back into the story with two minor characters one of which may be significant, and they are in a definite time and place, plus now that I have actually accomplished something substantial the rest of my day is icing. I won’t feel guilty about not writing because I already have. And writing is not the hard part. I can write morning pages, journal pages, writing practice. The harder part for me is to work deep into a story and stay there. This is a good start. And I didn’t even have to take myself out into the cold to the coffee shop to get it done. I stayed right here in the cozy comfort of my own writing space:

Where I wrote today

Happy New Year!

I admit it. I’m a New Year’s resolution junkie. I love the thought of a brand new year beckoning with all of its infinite possibilities. Because of this I tend to over-resolve, thus under achieve. This year was no different. I went to the bookstore, sat at my table with my cup of cinnamon spice tea and scribbled furiously in my notebook for pages and pages all the good intentions for 2012. Once I glanced back at all I had written I was both excited and overwhelmed. Excited by what was possible, overwhelmed by all I was expecting of myself. So, now that we are two days into the new year I am going to try a different approach. Instead of resolving to do or not do something for the whole year, I am taking it week by week. Most of my resolutions tend to be about my writing and art. So each week I will set a goal regarding one or the other or even both. This week I wanted to dip my toe back into art journaling by doing at least one page. Today I spent three hours (and they flew by) in my art space, just playing, creating a journal for this year.

Here’s a peek:

Cover for my 2012 Art Journal

First Spread: Action

My word for this year is “Action.” Big steps, little steps, miniscule (or micro, as Sark calls them) steps. Anything that keeps me moving forward. Which means I need to get comfortable with not knowing what’s next and with imperfection.

How about you? What is your relationship to resolutions? Do you make them? Share them? If so, feel free to comment them below. I’d love to hear from you.

I wish all of you a new year filled with the creative actions that create the momentum to make all of your dreams come true.

Happy New Year!!