Inspiration Station is an occasional series on ChiYAwriters.com highlighting the people, places, and works of art that inspire us as writers.
I had a pleasantly chatty cab driver during a recent trip to the airport. He’s a painter who drives to pay the bills, and he told me about his artistic inspirations and growing interest in using metal as a canvas. I shared the premise of my latest novel and the characters who drive it.
“I used to write too,” he said. “I still think of poems every now and then. But at some point, I guess you have to choose.”
To some extent, he’s completely right: there are only so many hours in a day, after all, and gaining expertise in anything requires immense dedication, so you’d better choose your investment wisely.
I went to a combined middle and high school focused on both academics and the arts. There, I was surrounded by people who, at age fourteen, were better painters than I will ever be. I personally focused on film photography, but my graduation requirements included classes in sculpture and painting. I also voluntarily participated in orchestra and—surprising me most of all—an intro-level drama class. At this school, even our “traditional” history and English classes often incorporated video, live sketches, or creative writing into assignments. Each of these art forms pushed me to think in nuanced ways about objects and perspective, color and sound, movement and light. Doing so improved my photographic eye at the time and, in the years since, has come to fundamentally shape my writing.
I only use my camera once or twice a year now, so I suppose I also chose one particular creative path. But I constantly draw on the lessons I learned through exploring other disciplines. They each changed my perspective and continue to reveal new worlds for my characters to explore. And why not? One of the first things we learn in crafting characters is to give them things—often multiple things—to be passionate about. This informs a character’s motivations but, more importantly, gives us the specific lens through which they see the world.
Writing may have been the path I committed myself to, but I know I can be more intentional about taking artistic detours. I may not have the hours to explore that I did in high school, but I can carve out a few minutes at a time to keep the road more interesting and my creative well more full.
As we reached O’Hare, my newfound artistic pal and I wished each other luck. He told me he planned to write a new poem, and I promised to take my camera out for a spin.
I hope, reader, that you’ll join us in embracing the scenic route.