Jack of All Trades... Master of None?

I was recently asked about my greatest fear in pursing my creative dreams.  I'm not sure of the answer I gave at the time, but the one that is in my head right now, is that I've feared that I'd be a 'jack of all trades, master of none'.  You see, my creative ambitions don't fall neatly into one category.  I like to write.  I like to paint.  And I like to take photos.

I've primarily been focused on picture book writing, but I've also been dabbling in freelance writing, middle-grade fiction, and I have some scribbles that make up the beginning of a novel.  On top of this, I am learning how to paint, having not pursued it much since high school.  I'm also getting the hang of using my SLR in manual mode, a skill that also been dormant since my high school days of black and white photography.  (Digital SLR cameras weren't available back then, so it was a necessary skill in those days!)

So how did it all begin?  After my first child was born, I felt such a shake up in my thinking about what I could do with my spare time.  Yes, you can laugh at that bit.  Having a baby doesn't leave a whole lot of spare time, but it does at least give you thinking space about what you could do with spare time, if and when you manage to grab a few minutes. All those hours spent feeding through the night, or walking through the streets with the pram had led to something creative brewing. The problem was that I didn't really know exactly what to do with it.

I did some terrible writing.  Some awful artwork.  And took some pretty average photos with my SLR in automatic mode.  Then I completed a picture book writing course and I learnt about the conventions of the picture book and gained some insight into the workings of the publishing industry. All the stuff I needed to know if things were going to go anywhere, but I wasn't yet developing many story ideas.  I tried to get into painting with watercolour but I found it intensely frustrating that I couldn't produce the images that were in my head.  I packed it all away to focus on our house renovations and then it was time to go back to my day job.

A year later my second child was born and life became much busier than before. Things thankfully settled down and again I had some time to think about how I could funnel my creativity somewhere rewarding and purposeful. With two children now, it was even harder to find time to myself.  Even though my older child wasn't having a regular day sleep at home anymore, I was so thankful that both children would each have a car sleep after lunch each day.  I would park under a tree, and take out a notebook and scribble down all the things in my head that I felt I had to record somehow - observations, feelings, ideas that I thought I could use in a future novel.  I thought these scribblings were just my way of capturing ideas so I wouldn't forget them.  I then did some reading on the process of writing fiction and turns out this is not an unheard of way of beginning a novel.   So there you go, I was actually starting another project and intuitively I sort of knew what I was doing.  And I stuck at it.  And before too long, these scribblings were forming part of a broader narrative.  

Around this time I also had some ideas for a parenting book and jotted down chapter ideas and had a chat with people who may like to collaborate.  I tried watercolour again, and produced some illustrations that I didn't actually hate.  I continued to work on my picture book manuscripts.  And then came the biggest turning point, I started attended events for children's writers and illustrators. I went to festivals and gatherings.  I joined a critique group.  I made connections.  I put together a website.  I channelled my ideas from the parenting book into pitches for freelance articles.  I agreed to be part of an illustration exhibition (and immediately felt ill at the prospect of this endeavour but pushed on anyway).  I was gaining some momentum, and then yes, you guessed it, time to go back to my day job.

But this time it was different. With all of these wanderings through different creative territories, something had started to take shape, something that wouldn't just go away as easily as before.  Maybe it was the strength of having made at least some progress across a few domains.   I'd refined some picture book manuscripts to a point where they were ready for submission to publishers, I'd participated in the illustration exhibition (and made some wonderful connections), I was blogging regularly, and I even had a freelance article published online.  And I'd made friends in the writing/illustrating world to help keep me inspired, motivated, and who really understood this new world that I was in. Things were on a roll and I was keen to get work done whenever I could… early morning starts before the rest of the house woke, late at night when the rest of the house was already sleeping, and during the day in any pockets of time that came my way. Thankfully, my youngest was having mammoth day sleeps which gave my productivity a massive boost.

And the thing that was such a relief to me throughout all of this, was the realisation that each of creative endeavours had somehow complemented the others.  It hadn't been just a trade-off with my time, with one skill suffering because I was spending time on another.  They all worked together.  Illustrating characters from my manuscripts brought them to life and helped me to understand more about them than I could have ever imagined.  Blogging helped me to write even when I didn't feel inspired but because of a self-imposed deadline, a very handy skill to have when you're seeking freelance work or just wanting to push on with your creative writing.  Persevering with watercolour helped me to be more fluid with my movements and more confident and resolute with my decisions. Trying a new medium such as goauche taught me to be experimental, and helped me to achieve a closer approximation of the images in my head that I had been trying to bring to the page.  Photography helped me to capture a moment or a feeling with more speed than writing or illustrating could, and getting the knack of manual mode took the quality up a notch or two.  And the photos provided original photographic content for my website.  

Having all these things to dip into gave me choice and helped to lift my energy when working on one project had worn me down.  Sure, I still find it frustrating that I have so many projects on the go at once and very little time for any of them.  But I've learnt that with deadlines to work to, I can make the most of snippets of time. And this jack of all trades now even wakes up before the birds most mornings.

The master bit?  Well, I don't worry so much about that anymore.