The first step of writing a new book doesn’t actually involve writing for me. Before I open my laptop or write a single word, I start with sketches. I sketch out the setting, characters and outline key plot points. It always feels a bit like returning to my elementary school art classroom. As I’m sure you’ve heard me say more than once, words are my medium. I appreciate other forms of art, but my version of drawing is creating stick figures. I’m often critical of my inner artist because I don’t feel like I’m talented or skilled when it comes to painting, drawing, or any kind of 3-D design. However, a strange thing happens when I’m working on a new book—my inner art critic vanishes.
The sketching process helps me build imaginary worlds and form connections with the characters who are going to embody them. For this new project, I broke out colored pencils and dabbled in watercolor. I cut pictures from magazines for collages. I strung fairy lights from my office ceiling, lit ocean-scented candles, and sampled tastes of fresh tangerines.
Never once did that nagging critical voice appear. Perhaps that’s because I don’t care about the outcome when working on a sketch for a new idea. I know that no one else is ever going to see my kindergarten-level creations. They are just for me. There’s something freeing in that. It reminds me of this quote by Georgia O’Keeffe: “Whether you succeed or not is irrelevant, there is no such thing. Making your unknown known is the important thing.”
That’s what my messy sketches do for me. They take a seed of an idea and plant them on construction paper. Somewhere along the way, the story begins to take shape, and my unknown becomes known. Without a doubt, my inner critic will make a cameo appearance (or twenty) once I start the routine of daily writing and fleshing the story out chapter by chapter. But for this project and hopefully future books, I’m choosing to embrace my amateur artist and breathe into the gift of creativity in all of its imperfect forms.