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