In Stephen King’s book about writing, “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft,” King says, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around those two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.” Thanks man! I could have gleaned that much from previewing the book online or from flipping through it while I waited in line to buy it!

No kidding, I love the book. I recommend it even if you do not write, are not a Stephen King fan or a fan of the horror genre. In it, King removes the mystery from writing, addressing it as a craft. Making art a blue-collar job gives me hope because it becomes a reachable goal. It also depresses me, because a craft requires hard work every day. I don’t mind working hard sometimes, but every day?

The photo-equivalent of reading and writing a lot is not just making a lot of images. That’s half of it. That’s the “writing a lot” part. Reading a lot for writers exposes them to work of various styles and genres. It shows how it’s done, and sometimes how it’s not done.

Working on non-literary crafts also requires regular exposure to the work of others. We need to learn how it’s done, and sometimes how it’s not done. Expose yourself, in a manner of speaking. View work within your comfort zone and interests, and maybe more importantly, beyond or outside the comfort zone.

Spend time studying works of others, and what drives artists to create them. Does a body of work succeed in reflecting the artist’s original intent? Linger, even if it is not interesting to you. Why is it not interesting? Knowing these things may help you recognize them in your own work.

King says his first draft is done with the door closed, and the second draft with the door open, meaning that’s when he invites feedback from a few trusted friends. Feedback is invaluable but it has its time and place, and can be taken to extremes. I’ve made art to please critics, and I’ve also made art that intentionally went contrary to feedback. The results were the same: The work failed me. More accurately, I failed the work. Different interpretations and perspectives also teach us to speak about our art, which deserves its own topic!

Let’s be honest. There’s more going on here than striving to improve our craft. It’s about becoming more effective artists. That is a topic that doesn’t get discussed enough. We hear about becoming more efficient. There are plenty of time-saving tips, and ways to establish a more efficient workflow, but how often do we focus on becoming more effective artists? I’ll never forget those times when viewers told me that my art affected them. When a viewer gets it without needing a single word of explanation, that’s a successful project. It doesn’t happen often enough, but that’s what I mean by making better art. It’s about making a better artist.

If the thought of starting something new and having it open to criticism terrifies you, few people are better qualified to discuss fear than Stephen King. My favorite “On Writing” quote: “The scariest moment is always just before you start.”

Let’s go make stuff and see what happens.

The Visitor

The Visitor © Todd Vinson