A question of balance

originally posted by Sam Hogg

Hi Janny, I'm a long time fan of your work, and have actually met you a couple of times at DragonCon in Atlanta, though I've not been for a couple of years now. Last time I was there, I gave you a sketch of Arithon, stood in front of a viking-inspired monolith, with Alithiel over his shoulder (sayeth she, in the vague hope it might spark a memory!).

You are perhaps one of the few people I could think of who might be able to offer a wise word. I am, by trade, a concept artist. It's been my dream since I left school, and I achieved it just six months ago. I spent the last few years with that sole goal in mind, giving up every last moment I had to get to a level that was good enough for the job I wanted. I used to write a lot when I was younger, and still enjoy it hugely when I find the time to do so now, but rarely do, as art takes up the vast majority of my life. I have one manuscript for a 500 or so page novel written, that I do believe has potential to be published professionally, given a little more editing, but finding the time is tricky, without resorting to a life of permanent hermitry!

You do both professionally, as I would truly love to do - it's one of the reasons I respect and admire what you do. How do you find the time to balance between the two disciplines? Do you consider yourself a writer first and foremost, and do the art when the writing allows? Or are both of equal standing to you? I would love to dedicate more time to writing, with a couple of ideas I've had bubbling for some time now, but in a field such as concept art where there are so many up and coming youngsters whose talents are already a match to my own, and competition is fierce for the good jobs, I feel almost like I can't rest on my laurels by stopping to write.

Do you ever feel that way about writing and art? (Not perhaps so much the up and coming talent in writing, but knowing the troubles you've had in getting the latest WoLaS books published in the US, and your thoughts on the declining use of descriptive language and the self-publishing boom).

I am only 30, admittedly, and will ultimately follow my heart, whatever it wishes to do, but am curious to know your perspective on the quandry.

Many thanks, and apologies for the novelesque post… it's a hard habit to break. (ohmigosh, I just saw the preview, hope you're still reading by now).

Hi Sam -

I don't know that my experience is going to help you much, because in my case, (storytelling with pictures) the two careers intersect, so in fact, I am only aiming for one target (mostly). That means I am striving for the same end - a story with pictures - and only have to wrestle with the shift between thinking in symbol (words) and thinking in images (painting). Two different modes of thought, and not always easy to shift between the two.

You have a JOB/career in art, which means, it can't intersect your story telling directly - you have a track to follow at work, and if that creativity spills over into your private life, it could be tough to wrestle the time to shift, out of imagery based thought, and into symbol related thought.

Many writers have day jobs, and go on to write in their free time (Sandtiger, etc, feel free to chime in). Each of them have different ways to approach the time factor - some work intensely at writing on weekends, some take vacation retreats, expressly targeted to work on their novels. This could be difficult if you are also juggling family, as writing is such a solitary pursuit.

I do, also, paint for the fun of it, not related to writing for story - and it is HARD to jam in the time. I tend to handle that stuff late at night, when I am creatively pooped, when most folks do TV (I don't have the zap, sometimes, to do this "late shift") and a result, my "paint for fun" stuff is not creatively too challenging. I pick subjects that just draw themselves, (Racing the Wind/Moonlight Frolic are examples, if you are visiting the gallery) or, sometimes, the Paravia sketchbook is done while waiting - for planes, appointments, during "dead" periods at signings…I pick it out and doodle. Which means my creative schedule is erratic.

One tends to do laundry and shopping first! (grin). The dream, natch, is to be able to have a manager (WELL PAID!) to do that stuff…then I could paint, write, AND create music…

I also find I have to get out and ground in the real world - can't live virtually all the time, the ideas get stale - so I ride horses to "get back to earth" - and it lifts me up, to be outside and appreciate all that life offers…so juggling two internally creative careers tends to squeeze out living in the here and now…I jog, too, since I just hate not moving all day long.

You have to do what you love, and you have (in life) to use your gifts…I think, writing between times, can be perfected - you just have a scratch pad, and write down jits and jots of scenes, type them in and CONNECT THE DOTS when you have time…I do that, when pressed for Holidays - keep creating scattershot, and assemble the whole, later. But that is my way - yours will be yours.

You get exactly what you aim for - if you truly WANT to do both careers, you will - simply that.

It is harder, I think, to be the primary creator (write and get others to read) rather than create to a template - or in a team/job situation…you really have to extend yourself - but it can be so rewarding. I would not fear the difficulty of today's market - actually, today's market FAVORS new writers…with computer tracking here, a publisher would much rather "try" an unknown on the shot it may explode, than plod along with a "known envelope" trying to break it out of a past pattern, whatever the reason for status quo. It used to be one could "switch houses" with ease - now that is not the case, unless the numbers are SO HIGH, in which case - why fix what's not broken? If you don't ever write because you fear you won't win at it, well, then, you will NEVER win at it…take the risk. Work at your craft - perfect your ideas, reach them further…do your thing and stick at it.

With regard to "resettling" my North American rights - it is a MUCH MORE COMPLEX PICTURE than appears from the outside. There are industry hurdles that aren't apparent - first off, I had to WAIT to get the rights back from the past publisher, in order to decide how to approach getting WoLaS resettled in the US market…it took years…! (Meantime, computer tracking for an author's last title is ONLY 2 YEARS for the major chains, so if you don't have a release every 2 - you are OFF the radar…) (Therefore, I had to do a stopgap to keep the name in the system - thereby I picked an independent - best choice - didn't work out as well as it could have, but hey, here I am, still) Finally, the looooong cold wait was over - I got the last book's rights reverted in April 08, and lo, now we have a deal, but how that finalized was not an easy choice to make - I had to look at everything and make the best shot guess - and I have opted to get all the books available again quickly rather than go through years of waiting to resubmit them here - I am working, now, with editors already involved with the project. So my "case" is not typical… I will have more on that later. Now, hereforward, I have to expect that in May, when the titles re-release - the right readers will find the "right stuff" to make the titles sell on through.

I would not pay the least attention to the "self publishing boom" but go for getting the work accepted PROVIDED it has a commercial potential…if it is too esoteric, then, another route would be wisest…if you get a publisher, you get what you cannot do on your own - distribution. That is essential to reaching out to the available readership - and it allows you to do what you do best - CREATE. Not waste time selling. Give somebody else a job - in production, in sales, in editing, in marketing, in book selling, and you write to provide them the content. Gain your readership FIRST. The only people "unhappy" with publishing are the ones who cannot get in, or the ones who can't hold a readership - yes, there are major flaws in the system, yes, it could be better/fairer/wiser - but - it's what we have. Work with it where you can. Once you get that ticket, then there is a lot you can do to promote yourself, and the internet becomes your friend.

One thing for certain - change is inevitable, and what is hot in concept art NOW, or the way it is done, could shift radically in years to come - so maybe it's a matter of looking at the timing. Your dream job - will it remain that forever? The writing may always be there.

As to stylistic stuff - all that is FADDISH. The texting generation has shifted things - but - will that stay "as is" forever? As those kids get older will the one note shallow message do the job, or will they reach in a new direction? I don't know, certainly - time will tell. But I am not about to waste the gift I was given, or the craft I have taken a lifetime to hone to go out with the bath water JUST BECAUSE somebody else thinks - whatever it is THEY think…I am here to do what I excel at, and just hope like crazy the timing meshes…and it will. Remember, Like attracts LIKE. Readers who like my stuff will stay with it…the challenge is getting it seen by the readers who will like it!

Figure on that, and all else falls into place. Stay out there with a unique concept long enough, and synchronicity says, eventually, the right eyes will discover it.

originally posted by Sam Hogg

Thank you for taking the time to write out such a response. Your experiences may be different to the sort of thing I am contending with, but the advice is sound, and rest assured I shall whole heartedly take it! I've never been too interested in the self publishing thing… precisely because a lack of skill at self-management would ultimately kill any success I might have, but alos because having a publisher counts as a certain verification for me that my work is good enough. With skilled people to take care of the business end of things, I'd love to get my teeth into finding my readership! It's nice to hear an author encouraging that rather than nay-saying, and gives me that little extra boost to keep believing it's possible.

It's interesting you mention the spill over of my work into my private time, which is exactly what has happened. To the point that I work through much of my non-9 to 5 day as well, finding an odd hour or two in the early hours to work on my own stuff, be that writing or painting, though the latter frequently wins out. Aside from the differences in the physical acts of creating in symbols and pictures, I consider them one and the same. Most of what I write is illicited from the images and virtual sensations moving through my head, and much of what I illustrate is spurred on by stories that flow and change even as I lay down brushstrokes.

I suspect, too, that I indulge in the art side of things as the gratification for myself, and the feedback I get from others is much more instant. Writing, I find, is a more intensive process. It takes longer for me to get that whole sense of success, of things slotting together, but I find the reward much greater when they do. Probably because I find it hard to write short passages and stories (probably a skill I should try some time) and even the simplest snippet of text that I jot down will have a myriad of connecting leads that spawn further characters, history and possible plotlines that I sometimes feel I can't ignore! Good writing tends to stay with me much more vividly than the most amazing pictures. I suppose because more senses are attached to it. With an image, you often need the visual reminder to spark the emotions. I could cite countless generalisations of book excerpts that I've read, that even though I don't recall the words, the feelings and pictures they evoke are still as raw as the time I first read the passage.

For that reason alone, I truly want to publish at least one book. The idea that perhaps someone will remember a passage I've written for years to come, that they enjoyed the ride of the story as much as I did while I wrote it. From there, who knows? There are so many ways I guess it could be done… Even while I've been writing this, it's just occured to me that Brom does both now too - perhaps no coincidence he is my favourite artist, and I count yourself as my favourite writer!

"You get exactly what you aim for - if you truly WANT to do both careers, you will - simply that."

Ne'er a truer word spoken, and given I've proved that to myself on the art side of things already, there's no reason why eventually that couldn't be true for writing. Sometimes you kind of know these things, it just takes a wiser voice than your own to spell it out to you.

Don't fall into the trap!!! of believing a publisher "verifies" that your work is "good enough!"

That's but definitely putting the carriage ahead of the horse!

YOU believe it is good enough - you see the worth in it for YOU, first - that is its own justification.

Others will find it after the fact, and decide on its worth to THEM.

If you wait for outside sources to verify your vision, it will not happen…like attracts like. Your knowing its worth will bring others to see what is of value for them…not they, seeing and verifying the value for YOU.

Writing is always harder than picture making (in my experience, limited as it admittedly is.)

I was referring the translation of ideas - either as vision (picture) or words to experience - symbol - Yes, I see in both directions as one ball of wax, initially - but the process of translation, words or image, is a different mode of thought (for me). You may not have experienced the "shift" in translation as I have - I am not claiming my experience is all that is there - just what I've discovered, for me.

originally posted by Sam Hogg

Point taken! Thank you for taking the time for those words of encouragement and wisdom! It may only be a few moments drawing on your experience and typing it up, but those few positive thoughts are a spark to dry tinder. Very, very much appreciated.