You might recall Painting by Numbers. For those of you blissfully unaware of what it’s all about, or were protected from such culturally insane artefacts by caring and loving parents, Painting by Numbers is as explained by Wikipedia, it’s a “style of art performed by filling numbered areas with specific colours.”
A style of art? Oh, right. As in art is in the eye of the beholder, art as an experience, not an object kind of art. Got it. (I don’t really get it, but why argue with a Wikipedia definition?)
If you’ve never seen the inside of a Painting by Numbers box here’s what’s inside: an inked, outlined image on a gessoed board. Inside the inked outline, in the white space, are numbers. Those little numbers correspond to little numbered pots of colour. The person painting matches it all up: colour pot #1 will be used wherever colour #1 appears on the board, using the brush that’s supplied. The image is preselected. The colours identified. Brush and brush cleaner supplied. All the human has to do is paint.
I don’t know that I’d call Paint by Numbers an art form so much as a craft form. And I don’t know if it’s helpful for people who have no talent, or predisposition toward understanding colour theory, or understanding how light affects colour, or how colours might be blended together since none of that applies to painting by the numbers.
Still, painting by numbers is a good place to start to get a feel for some of the material and make decisions about whether painting is of interest. It does demonstrate a little about the process, of getting ready, of the discipline. It can help the learning painter have some awareness about how to hold a paintbrush, how much paint to use, what kind of brush strokes to use to achieve different effects. It’s also a lot of fun to do at a cottage when there is nothing else to do, and you have a little wine, some great music and some friends and loved ones and make it a competition.
Meanwhile away from the world of painting, in the snow-tipped mountains known as Writering World, we now have the Snowflake method to plan and write a novel, which is “a scientific approach to writing a book.”
A scientific approach. To writing. A book. It even features — wait for it — a spreadsheet!
In truth, I am only slightly aghast. Process is important and spreadsheets have value for bunches of things, even as part of the prepare to write writering process. But a scientific approach to writing?
That sentence, with those words next to each other … scientific approach to writing… would be just fine if not for the inclusion of the word scientific. What, exactly does scientific mean to suggest here? A repeatable process that ensures a bona fide outcome for everyone if followed? Scientific because it was ‘invented’ by a PhD? I am not certain. It’s not clear. A teachable moment about being precise with word usage, with meaning of words and intent of word placement.
Back on track about the approach to writing: the thing about too fine a focus on process is that sometimes it’s so geared to output that there’s little focus on quality. Both are important, although it seems that process is more important to beginner writers who want to know the secrets to writing. Let me say this about that. There are no secrets. Want to write. Write and write well. Find someone to publish your stuff if you want to be published. Keep writing.
Everyone who writes regularly eventually lands on an approach that works for them. They’ve gotten to it by practice and have found over the years that some things work better than others. And some people flounder with any approach: it only comes together for them when they sit to write. Whatever works, works. The more people who share what works for them, the better. The more that people who want to write try different approaches, to find or refine one that works, so much the better.
There is no single best way to write that works for everyone, except to do the work of writing. And in that, there is a fair amount of diversity. Some people research things to death, let all the information stew in their heads and then just sit to write. Others go the next step and plan it all out. Others start with a line in their head and go from there.
All approaches are worth learning about in order to find a process that fits you and that works for you. And if you have a complicated story line, it can help to map it out, get it out from your head and onto something where you can see it visually, where you can connect the dots.
One caveat: no writing approach in the world will teach you what words to put next to each other to make a sentence a great sentence, a paragraph a great paragraph, a character believable, a story that people will want to read. That’s a combination of reading, writing, editing and writing and that endless loop in all writers’ lives.
As for approaches to writing? It is true that some people thrive when there’s a prescribed process — colour within the lines, use the colour you’re told, ensure you have a hopeful ending. And others, once they learn some basics, don’t need those lines and guides because they’ve outgrown them and can take their innate talent, mix in the discipline of practice and point themselves in the direction of art and mastery.