The Creative Journey: S. Jae-Jones on Finding Your Artistic Voice

Posted by Marie on February 20, 2018
S. Jae-Jones is the author of Wintersong, a darkly compelling young adult fantasy about magic, music, and destiny. This 2017 Goodreads Choice Award nominee and its spellbinding sequel, Shadowsong, follows the young composer Leisl, as she struggles to hone her talent while trying to forget the Goblin King who inspired her. Here, Jae-Jones shares her insights on creativity and craftsmanship.



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I am not a composer.

Because the protagonist of Wintersong lives, breathes, and dreams music, I'm often asked if I compose or write songs. While I am both a student and an appreciator of music, I do not create.

I write novels instead.

So I wrote what I felt, and I wrote what I wanted to be—a character who had a mission to make the world better for the people she loves.

We are often told to "write what [we] know" by craft books and sage advisers, and while I believe that is true, I also believe that our understanding of the old adage is incomplete. Writing what we know is writing what we know to be true.

And what is true about Wintersong? The impulse, the drive, and the process of artistic creation. If I did not hear melodies in my head, then I nevertheless had an idea that I was trying to execute on the page: a story and an emotional journey of a young woman striving to find her artistic voice amid pressures both internal and external. If the medium was different, then the method was not.

Writing was not the only artistic outlet I had growing up. In fact, for most of my life, I was known to my peers as "the one who could draw." (The illustrations and hand lettering in the North American edition of my book are mine.) I was part of a visual arts conservatory in high school, and it was there that I learned how to draft, revise, and execute an idea. For me, the process of creation—genesis—is the same whether I am taking a photograph, painting a portrait, or writing a novel. I have an idea. I take notes. I make sketches. I start a draft: color, composition, characterization, setting. I receive critique. I take more notes. I revise. I work and I work and I work and I work until I can get as close to the vision in my head.

This was the process I gave my protagonist. Liesl heard a piece of music in her head, then she sat down and worked through it until she got something close to a first draft. And then she continued to work on it, over and over and over. As Michelangelo is quoted as saying, "I saw an angel in the marble and carved until I set him free." There is the romantic notion that artists are moved by Muses and that works of art emerge fully formed. But that notion is incomplete; it glosses over the blood, sweat, and tears that are the actual labor of creating art. Legend says that Mozart was so struck by divine inspiration, all his music arrived perfect from his mind to the page. The truth is, after Mozart's death, his widow, Constanze, destroyed most evidence of his process to protect that romantic idea.

There is talent, and there is craftsmanship. One is innate, the other is learned. Ninety percent of finding your artistic voice is work—practicing, refining, revising, rewriting. But I would also caution against perfecting your craft at the expense of your art. A work can be technically perfect and devoid of feeling. Conversely, art can be "bad" and still evoke emotion in its audience. Pablo Picasso was a pioneer of Cubism, a style of visual art eschewing ideas of perspective or a single point of view that lends itself to dimensionality or "realism." But this is not to say that Picasso was a "bad" artist; his earlier works evince the technical skill and realistic figures many people expect in paintings. Balancing artistry and craftsmanship is a delicate process that will likely continue for the rest of your career. Sometimes you'll succeed. Many more times you will fail.

Write what you know to be true—true to your own vision. There is no universal "good" in art. People will praise and deride the exact same things in your work. Some will love what you do; others will not. Write what you know to be true, which is all any artist can demand of themselves.


S. Jae-Jones' Shadowsong is now available at a bookstore near you. Don't forget to add it to your Want to Read shelf! And let us know in the comments about your own journey to finding your artistic voice.


Comments Showing 1-14 of 14 (14 new)

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message 1: by Waad (new)

Waad Waleed 😍✨!


message 2: by Emily (new)

Emily Wachter I completely agree that art involves much more than pure talent and innate vision can’t be easily put into reality. But sometimes I worry that the blood sweat and tears make the art less meaningful or the talent less impressive, that somehow the longer something takes to make, the further it gets from that initial vision in your head. How do you stop the immense effort and time from preventing your art to become everything it is in your own mind?


message 3: by Vivian (new)

Vivian QOD: “But I would also caution against perfecting your craft at the expense of your art. A work can be technically perfect and devoid of feeling.”

Boom.

-V


message 4: by Marloes (new)

Marloes Well said!😍


message 5: by Valerie (new)

Valerie Rutherford "But I would also caution against perfecting your craft at the expense of your art. A work can be technically perfect and devoid of feeling. Conversely, art can be "bad" and still evoke emotion in its audience."

I love this section, too! I know that I can always improve my writing skill, and I worry how my prose will compare to more experienced writers, but it's still more important to me to keep the raw emotion of my stories over perfect craftsmanship. Over-editing can sometimes lead to a less emotional piece of art, and perfectionism can be a dream-killer. Though it certainly can be hard to step away and let go!


GypsyBookworm Vivian wrote: "QOD: “But I would also caution against perfecting your craft at the expense of your art. A work can be technically perfect and devoid of feeling.”

Boom.

-V"



Amen


GypsyBookworm Emily wrote: "I completely agree that art involves much more than pure talent and innate vision can’t be easily put into reality. But sometimes I worry that the blood sweat and tears make the art less meaningful..."

I completely agree. The solution to me is to write without fear. It is only when you write fearlessly that you truly succeed.


message 8: by M. (last edited Feb 25, 2018 05:20AM) (new)

M. Jones An inspiring piece. But for me I'd make a distinction: there is writing, and then there is editing. Writing is the fearless bit, and while I'd never say it's effortless, sometimes it almost feels like that because it can be so exhilirating, like running downhill. Editing is the polish. That's the hard graft of getting the balance and rhythm right (as well as spellchecking...). Both have to 'hit the spot' to get the piece that's never perfect but as close as it will ever be, while still retaining its soul.


message 9: by Bookaholic (new)

Bookaholic OMG OMG This is one of the best novels I've ever read. Can't wait to read shadowsong!


message 10: by Liz (new)

Liz Walters I agree!


message 11: by Dax (new)

Dax Munro S. Jae-Jones is truly an inspiration. ^_^


message 12: by J. (new)

J. Libby Beautifully said.


message 13: by Banana Pepsi (new)

Banana Pepsi AHHHHHHHHHHH I AM LEGIT DYING!!


message 14: by Tabinda (new)

Tabinda Mustershad "There is talent, and there is craftsmanship. One is innate, the other is learned. Ninety percent of finding your artistic voice is work—practicing, refining, revising, rewriting. But I would also caution against perfecting your craft at the expense of your art. A work can be technically perfect and devoid of feeling. Conversely, art can be "bad" and still evoke emotion in its audience."

Couldn't agree more with this! Adding this to my to-read.


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