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Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Over the years I’ve come in contact with a lot of creative people – writers, musicians, and visual artists. Every one of them has a unique creative process, but it’s the basic similarities that fascinate me.

My DH is a musician. He writes with sound instead of words, but it’s uncanny how analogous our processes are. First, there’s inspiration. For me that can come from an old photograph, a story someone tells me, a historical event, or it can simply come at me out of the blue, like Trey McShannon’s character did. For my DH, it’s much the same. Musical phrases from pieces he already knows, random sounds he stumbles on when ‘noodling ‘ on his guitar (his version of free writing), events or people provide the starting point, the initial spark. He banks melody lines in his memory the way I bank phrases, lines of poetry or story ideas. He’ll write a snatch of music down on paper the way I scrawl ideas in a note book – if I have one (Some of you may have heard my paper towel story by now.)

Next, the idea has to be fleshed out. For me, that means I start writing the first draft of my story. For my DH, it means finding a chord progression that expresses his original idea. Both of us have to think about length and mood and pacing. There are conventions in music – chord families and scales – just as there are conventions for the written word. Music has phrases, punctuation, its own grammar if you will. It also has its free-verse poets who ignore the conventions.

Finally there’s revision and polishing. For me that means going back and adding layers of action, emotion and introspection (Yeah, yeah, I know, too much introspection. I’m working on it.) For DH, it means a different kind of layering: adding harmony lines and embellishments, adjusting pace and rhythm. And yes, it can cause as much angst for him as it does for me. In the end, it’s about taking the reader or listener to a place you’ve created for them. The only difference is the medium.

With painting, it seems to me that the process is pared down but essentially the same. It starts with inspiration. The palette chosen is like a writer’s voice, and the intensity of the colors sets the mood. Any given subject can be interpreted in as many different ways as there are artists.

What do you think? Have you experimented with different forms of artistic expression? What’s your take on the idea that ‘art is art’?

Jennie Marsland is a teacher, a painter, a musician and, for over thirty years, a writer. She fell in love with words at a very early age and the affair has been life-long. She enjoys writing songs and poetry as well as fiction.

Jennie is a history buff as well as an unashamed romantic. Glimpses of the past spark her imagination, and she believes in happily ever after. Her first historical Western romance, McShannon’s Chance, was released by Bluewood Publishing last October. Jennie lives in Nova Scotia with her husband, their cat Emily and their outrageously spoiled Duck-Tolling Retrievers, Chance and Echo.


Linda Swift said...

Jennie, thanks for a very thought-provoking blog. I agree that the process is much the same for any creative art. And you have shown the similarities very clearly.

cindystubbs said...

Creativity works the same way for music or writing, and can light a spark for someone else. I've heard people say inspiration comes through them from somwhere else. like we are all plugged in to some great spiritual creative center. It is strange, that music has punctuation!