Sunday, September 18, 2011

Growth: Why I hope writing is like designing

Last post I talked about character development, and then I disappeared for a few days. Because I was busy busy developing characters ;)

Now I've got a full cast of well-rounded, multi-dimensional characters to work with, a solid 25K outline that covers everything right up to climax of the story, and I'm ready to start writing!

This is, of course, the best part of the project. And this time, I'm facing the challenge of a main character who interacts with—but doesn't speak to—any of the other characters until a third of the way through the story. Yes, challenge indeed.

Speaking of challenges, I'm also in the midst of learning how to critique others work. I'm beta'ing novels from two different writers and I've already found that it's a very different thing from critiquing my own work. Another interesting thing that's come up, is when one of the writers was worried I'd be offended by her comments. I assured her that I wouldn't be, but it led me into some further connections between my day job as a designer and my evenings and weekends as a writer.

I've mentioned here and elsewhere some of the similarities between the two. There is another aspect of writing that feels like design (and probably like many other jobs, but hey, this is my experience): Growth.

I went to college to study graphic design. My profs taught me the how-to and the rules of design, and then sent me off to give it a go. I laid out my ideas, thought they were amazing, only to have the Profs turn around and tear them apart. They showed me -- either gently or ruthlessly -- what I was doing wrong. Sometimes the feedback was bad enough to nearly put me in tears.

So I tried again.

For three years.

By the time I received my diploma I could hardly bear to look at the work I'd done in my first year--it was so hideous! I'd come a long way since then, and I never would have if I didn't have my professors and colleagues ripping my ideas and my work to pieces.
Then I went out into the Real World. I picked up a job in Calgary almost immediately after I finished school, designing trade show booths. That was four years ago. When I compare my early days there, to the work I do now, so much has changed. I've really learned to separate my ideas from myself—when someone hates my work, it's the idea they hate, not me. Thick skin, that was a big change. Also:

I'm faster. A job that would have taken 8 hours of design four years ago now takes me 2 or 3.

I'm better. I used to have to work through five or six different concepts with clients, making radical changes, before I got what they wanted. Now the design is usually signed off in two or three proofs, covering only minor revisions.

I'm smarter. Four years ago I struggled to see the problems in my own designs, what I could do or change to make the client happy. Now if a client comes back to me feeling unsure about how something works in the layout I can see immediately what I need to change to fix it.

What I'm saying with all this rambling is that I hope, when everything is said and done, that my writing evolves the same way my design has. I spend a lot of time writing, and I think what I write is good. Now I'm having beta readers tear it apart, and that can only be a good thing. I hope I learn a lot from seeing my work from their viewpoints. And I hope in a few years I'll be able to look back on my early writing and cringe.
I hope that, with time and effort, I'll be a faster, better, and smarter writer.

Has that happened for you? Or are you like me, looking ahead and just hoping?

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