Today on Tuesday Chat we have guest author Alexis Daria, whose book TAKE THE LEAD was one of the Washington Post’s top-five romances of 2017 (!!). Alexis is co-host of RWChat on Twitter every Sunday. In short, she rocks. But—did you know that she’s an artist, too? Read on for more about how her art informs her writing. Welcome, Alexis. –Katie Rose Guest Pryal
How My Background in Art Helps with Writing, by Alexis Daria
Most people who know me as a writer don’t know this, but I was an artist first.
Art has always been a constant in my life. When I was a kid, I doodled on whatever scraps of paper I could get my hands on. My mom kept coloring books in the car to occupy me while we ran errands. My dad took me to art classes at a local college on the weekends. If it was remotely artsy, I was into it. I painted, crafted, crocheted, photographed, and more. For high school, I attended the Fame school (like the movie), where I majored in Fine Arts. And though it took me awhile to get there, I eventually graduated college with a BA in Computer Arts.
So how did I become a writer?
Writing was the second constant. I was in middle school when I started writing longer stories that boasted a beginning, middle, and sometimes an end. In high school, I wrote fanfic. And by the time I hit my twenties, I was trying to write novels. (I didn’t actually complete anything until I was in my thirties, but that’s a different story.) The year I turned thirty, I found myself thinking about the adage that it takes ten thousand hours to master something. I lay in bed one night mentally tallying up the number of hours I’d probably devoted to both writing and art. Thanks to all the years of studying art in school, I figured I’d hit the ten thousand mark. But I hadn’t yet done that for writing. I decided to give it the same shot I’d given art. No more being torn between the two. Painful as it was, I set art aside, and went all in on writing. Luckily, my background in art gave me a skill set that I could transfer over.
In my freshman year pencil drawing class in high school, we were given a mnemonic to help us study and write about art. BRUVEC stands for:
I believe this can apply to writing, as well. Balance refers to pacing, making sure the story flows along and doesn’t drag. Rhythm is like author voice, the cadence you use when you write. Unity ensures the writing and story are consistent—you don’t want it to seem like five different people wrote your book! Variety could refer to sentence variation, or even conflict or characterization. Emphasis is achieved by slowing down in the areas where you want the characters, and reader, to linger. And contrast could be the highs and lows in the story, the peaks and valleys, and making sure there’s enough distance between them to keep your reader wanting more. BRUVEC taught me to think about the whole composition of the piece, and the technique.
Studying design in college taught me the value of the ideation phase. In art and design, this looks like sketching out a series of rough thumbnails to test ideas before you start creating what will become the final product. These tiny drawings allow you to brainstorm quickly, jumping from one idea to the next, while giving you an overall sense of the whole composition from a bird’s eye view. As a writer, this process is similar to developing a blurb or synopsis before the draft, to make sure you have a full story before you go on to write the manuscript. It teaches you not to be so precious with your process or even with the idea, because it’s flexible and can be easily changed.
Art also imparted the ability to work for long hours with no immediate return. (I’m kinda joking, but kinda not.) When I worked on my senior thesis project, I spent fourteen hours a day in the computer lab and went in on weekends, too. (It turned out to be great practice for hitting book deadlines.) When I talk about this with non-writer friends, they can’t fathom the sheer number of hours you have to spend alone with your work. And there’s no hourly pay rate on the ten thousand hours I mentioned earlier. Still, you do it, whether someone is paying you or not, because the drive to create won’t be denied. (Or because your grade depends on it.) Studying art prepared me for the long hours necessary for writing novels, and strengthened my motivation to put in the work to hone my craft, well before I had a book contract.
And writing is a craft. Being an artist showed me that creative work isn’t about any one drawing or photograph or logo design. It’s not about any one manuscript, either. I’m not working toward some final masterpiece that, once created, means I’m done. I create art—whether visually or through words—because I’m compelled to do so. It’s a lifelong process, something I’m continually building on and improving. The craft matters more than the final product. With each new project, I bring with me all the skills I’ve learned along the way. And thanks to my background as an artist, I’m focused on picking up new ones as I go.
Alexis Daria is a contemporary romance author, artist, and native New Yorker. Her debut, TAKE THE LEAD, was a 2017 Golden Heart® finalist and was named one of The Washington Post’s 5 Best Romances of 2017. DANCE WITH ME, book 2 in the Dance Off series, is out now. On Sundays, she co-hosts #RWchat, a weekly Twitter chat for romance writers. She loves social media, and you can find her live-tweeting her favorite TV shows at @alexisdaria, or talking about writing and books on her blog at alexisdaria.com.
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