We were sitting in bed when he passed me his phone.
"Take a look at this picture. I bought one for Orion. They're doing their nursery in the year of the horse theme."
I took a closer look, immediately captivated by the art work—a watercolor of bright magenta woven within purples and lighter colors of pink.
"Ohmigosh this is amazing. Do they have others? I want one."
Russ looked at me in surprise. "Oh you like it? I can bid on another piece—see if we get it."
Two days later, he told me we missed out on one of the prints. I told him not to worry. "Just send me the picture? I want to try and do something similar."
He sent me the picture and I stood in my tiny Harry Potter closet with my phone in one hand and the paint brush in another. I was determined to make these splashes of color look like this picture that had captured me so completely. I learned new techniques and how colors mix with each other and how to use the white space to your advantage.
I played with colors I never would have even considered a year ago.
When I finished, I stepped back and considered the painting. It was good. I was impressed with how I was able to actually pull off painting something and make it look like that something.
But I didn't love it.
I showed Russ and he expressed approval. The next day, while on a last minute trip to greet my new baby niece, I showed my mom a picture and she gushed about the detail.
But I still didn't love it.
Right before we moved and before I packed the canvas into a box, I covered the painting with brush strokes of golds and lavender. As soon as the painting beneath was unrecognizable, I let out a massive sigh.
I felt free again. Playful.
"There." I whispered. "That's better."
There are a number of writing lessons I've learned since starting to paint. Trudging through that messy middle—the space of time between ohmigoshthisisamazing and okaygoodifinallyrememberwhereiamgoing— is by far one of the biggest.
But the picture of me in my closet with the phone in one hand and my paint brush in another begs the reminder of writing voice.
I have my style of painting. It's layered and messy and colorful and dripping with intent and words stacked on top of reds and blues and golds and purples. When I get outside of that base, even more when I step outside in order to imitate, nothing good will come of it.
In Every Shattered Thing, I had the opportunity to make it different. I could have wrapped everything up in a neat little package and offered readers the immediate happily ever after so many crave. But I knew that wasn't true to this story. I knew Stephanie needed time—that Kevin needed time. I knew there were tangles within their relationship that needed ironing out and arguments and a few left hooks from Stephanie before they even had a sliver of a chance in making it.
So I ended the book where I knew I needed to end it. I stopped listening to those who had opinions about the plot and trusted those who knew my voice.
Most importantly: I started trusting myself.
Know this: there is a time and a place within creativity for imitation. I'm positive of this. However, for me, the imitation is regulated to the first drafts. To the practice sessions. To the pieces I know will pass through the eyes of others who know me well enough to say, "wait—this right here? It isn't you. Scratch that out. Make it better. Make it you."
I learned so much from imitating the painting. I learned what I was capable of with the paint brush. But I can take those skills and twist it within my own painter's voice. And that's the beauty of art. That's how so many books and movies and poems are built on just one story.
We have a million and one voices vying for their moment. Can you hear your own?
What is the story burning with you? What is the plot that even though it's been done before, you have a different angle and point of view and it keeps you up at night with dialogue and description and scenes unfolding behind your eyes?
What would happen if you laid to rest the need to imitate every other idea and rely on the ones brimming within your own soul?
I bet the result would be a pretty amazing masterpiece. I bet you would be surprised with what you were capable of creating.