33 Steps to Being an Artist is an excellent read by Jerry Salz originally appearing in New York Magazine. Archived here by the Vulture (external link) Well worth fifteen minutes.
I’d add that being an artist means taking away, reducing, eliminating the unnecessary. Strunk and White wrote in the Elements of Style that,
“Omit needless words. Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.”
This may not feel natural as it is a process of tearing down, not building up.
Salz says something I find impossible to follow,
Lesson 24: Artists Must Be Vampires
Stay up late every night with other artists around your age. Show up. Go to openings, events, parties, wherever there are more than two of your kind.
Artists must commune with their own kind all the time. There are no exceptions to this rule, even if you live “out in the woods.” Preferably commune in person, but online is more than fine. It doesn’t matter where you live: big city, small city, little town. You will fight and love together; you will develop new languages together and give each other comfort, conversation, and the strength to carry on. This is how you will change the world — and your art.
I’m currently trying to explain the basics of crystallography for my book. After a discussion of idealized crystal forms, I mention terms describing the aggregates of crystals. Words like acicular, bladed, and botryoidal. I don’t know anyone I can “commune with” that can help me with my writing. Another writer would have to be familiar with the same subject matter, both of us struggling at the same time to sort out an inherently difficult language.
I don’t know of any openings, events, or parties that cater to my kind or to any non-fiction writer working in the sciences. At the coffee shop I go to, at three in the morning, each person is intensely focussed on their own work, whatever that is, staring fixedly into a screen in front of them. I don’t know what they are working on and no conversation takes place among us, talk being confined to those out being social. We are all alone with our work.
For me, the only telling summary of our often excruciating creative process is a quote by 4 Non Blondes:
And so I cry sometimes
When I’m lying in bed just to get it all out
What’s in my head
And I, I am feeling a little peculiar
That’s it. I don’t feel right until I get my words right. I feel out of sorts when my thoughts are out of sorts, when I don’t yet know enough to explain something well enough. It is only when I think clearly that I can write clearly. That’s the struggle. if I could find someone to party with who understands what orbicular means, well life might be fine indeed. But right now I have a deadline to meet and a solid red jigsaw puzzle with a thousand pieces to put together.
Returning back to the aorticle that Salz wrote, I do not mean to criticize his work as a whole. It is a fine piece of writing and well worth your time.