What “Miami Ink” is teaching me about writing and being creative on demand

Those readers who know me know that I’m not really into tattoos. I’m not an opponent of tattoos. I just don’t have one, and probably never would have one, and wasn’t really thrilled when my daughter got a ginormous one on her back. I’d spent her whole life to that point trying to protect her from pain and scars she’d carry for her whole life, so yes, her decision to permanently ink her body freaked me out for a while.

But I got over it.

So you may be surprised to learn that I’ve been watching the first two seasons of the reality series “Miami Ink” on Netflix (using my handy dandy Roku, the greatest technology a Luddite like me could ever own).

The show has offered me the chance to see the artistic and emotional motivations people have for getting tattoos.

But what I’m most fascinated by is the creative process the artists go through, how hard it can be sometimes to be creative on demand, and how an artist balances that creative process with the need to do the job they’re being paid for.

See, I’ve always believed that something truly creative and wonderfully inspiring must flow out of the artist without effort, whether it’s a painting or an essay. Maybe that’s because some of my best writing has come during those “wow” moments where you start writing and hours later a beautiful piece is in front of you and you don’t really know how you fit into the whole process.

Which is why it’s been so difficult for me to write a book. Or even really get past the initial work on any of the book ideas I have. I’ve never really understood – or been taught, I guess – the structure that goes into making the finished project look so effortless. I know how to write – grammar, sentence structure, etc. – and I have a pretty nice resume as proof.

What I struggle with is understanding the scaffolding of a major project, if that makes sense. I guess I just never really think about the fact that a great book takes years of writing and deleting and writing and deleting and researching and piecing together that research and then more writing and deleting.

But watching “Miami Ink” has been eye opening to me, seeing the foundational drawings, sketches, measurments and even tracings that fit together to make a tattoo. Sure, these guys can completely freehand something on skin. But it seems like even those ideas have usually gone through some sort of building process on paper first.

We don’t see that process; we just see the finished product.

I guess I’m always waiting for a moment of inspiration to write, to work on the books, to finish a column. I even have a pretty funny idea for a novel that I’ve been kicking around for years, but just haven’t really been sure what to do with it. I spend the days before a column is due kicking around ideas and hoping for a “moment” where 600 funny and inspiring words will flow out of my little fingers like magic.

But I’m being reminded again that instead of waiting for inspiration, I need to incorporate into my creative process some building blocks to help drive the work along. Interviews, outlines, drafts, research, notes.

Watching artists like Chris Garver have to be creative on demand – and that they do create pieces that really don’t inspire them as an artist; the episode in season 2 I watched last night was about how he hates doing tattoos of fairies – reminds me that when someone is depending on you, you have to get to work and stop bitching. That you do the best you can in the time frame you have, and that as an artist you may think you can always do better but that’s just life.

In other words, shut up, sit down, and get writing.

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5 responses to “What “Miami Ink” is teaching me about writing and being creative on demand

  1. Amazing, so many people can’t make those type of association. Yeah it’s a different type of work but the basic is the same.

  2. For a while I’ve been thinking about taking some drawing classes to help with my writing. They say it’s important to be creative in several disciplines; I can see how that would be true.

  3. After reading your blog, I came across this quote. I thought, since it came from a fellow author and speaks to the issue in your blog, you might appreciate his perspective.

    Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.
    —Stephen King, American novelist

    • Yup, that’s a good one! Steve Martin once said, “Writer’s block is a fancy term made up by whiners so they can have an excuse to drink alcohol.” That one cracks me up every time.

      I work hard – honest, I do! LOl But I never thought about how creativity also includes so much underpining, I guess, so much scaffolding and planning and plotting and even tracing. How a great drawing started as measurements and sketched forms and tons of lines that are erased later. Writing is a lot like that. I really do think I need to take a drawing class. So many times I’ve wished I could get an idea out of my head and onto paper but I lack that actual training needed to do that. I can do it with words, but having another art skill would def help.

  4. Interesting parallel…and good advice!

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