There is a strange concept among visual artists – many seem to think they don’t need to write well. The idea is that their work should speak for itself, after all, had they wanted to write, they would have become writers. I’m sorry, but that is bullshit. Writing is one of the most important skills you can have regardless of your profession, and is especially important for visual artists.
Why You Need to Write
You will be required to write often throughout your career. The majority of this writing will be about your work – artist statements, project proposals, grant applications, interviews, articles, etc. Write well and you, along with your work, will be taken seriously, you’ll get grant funding, shows, and other opportunities that will advance your practice. Write poorly and you’ll miss out – people wont understand your ideas and work, they won’t care to read interviews about you, and the granting committee will pass on your project.
You will also need to communicate with people to ask for help – negotiate access for shoots, get subjects to trust you, work in teams, and more. The majority of professional communications are now email based, those who write clearly and concisely are a pleasure to deal with. If there is no confusion as to what is requested and why, people are more likely to respond and help out. If I have to spend five minutes deciphering your email it’s easier for me to just skip it.
Improving Your Writing
The secret to improving your writing is simple; you have to write a lot. However, as my English teacher would say, practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect. You must recognize mistakes in your writing and fix them, as you do this again and again, this process will get simpler and your writing will improve. Here are the methods that will speed thing up.
Proof Read – You should always proof read your own writing. It seems obvious, but we get a lot of emails at the studio, full of spelling mistakes and awkward phrasings, that have clearly not been proof read. If you think we’re going to hire someone who hasn’t bothered to proof read their email, think again. It is also good to wait a bit before proof reading an important piece, the distance of a day or two gives you a clear head and freshness that makes it easier to catch mistakes.
Have Someone Else Proof Read – Even better than proof reading your own work is having someone else do it as well. The catch is that you want someone who writes really well to do it, otherwise it could make your writing worse. When you have someone proof read your piece, ask them to enable track changes or print it out and mark it up. Look at what they changed and think about why they did it. This way you will catch similar situations in the future and fix them yourself.
Read a Book on Writing – There are many great books on writing and reading a few will give you a new perspective on how to solve various problems you will encounter. The two book that have been recommended to me by many people and that I’ve now read myself are The Elements of Style and On Writing Well. They will change how you approach writing and you will immediately see an improvement.
Read a Lot – Once you start thinking about writing, you will become much more aware of how others write. Reading a lot, especially content that is similar to what you’re creating, will present elegant solutions to problems. This could be how grammar is used, sentence structure, new vocabulary, how story arcs are put together, and much more. All of the things you discover when reading become part of your writing arsenal.
The goal isn’t to become an essayist or to write a novel. It is to be able to communicate your thoughts in a clear and concise manner so that your writing is an aid to your other work rather than a hindrance. Happy writing!
Image by Jeffrey James Pacres