Revealing Yourself Through Your Art

My muse prompted me to fish out three highlighter pens and mark up the ten writing pieces I’m critiquing in advance of my first MFA workshop later this month.

The eleven of us come from all four semesters of the program. I’ve never met any of them.

But I’m meeting them through their words. Are they meeting me through mine?

I encountered this resident of Connecticut on my cross-country road trip. He is not one of the creatives I interviewed.

I marked up each manuscript as follows – the yellow pen highlighted action, the orange background information, the pink introspection and insight. The writing instructor I had earlier this year would say the yellow and orange advanced the horizontal story, while the pink told the vertical story.

I then marked up my own manuscript. I saw very little pink.

As I’ve written here before, I’m new to Oprah-style sharing in my writing; as a journalist I tell other’s stories and kept myself out of the narrative. That was the approach I used in the short films I produced of creatives I interviewed on my cross-country road trip.

My 20-page submission chronicles part of that road trip, my experiences and interviews in Vermont and Connecticut. It’s mostly yellow, with a  bit of orange.

The vertical story of my road trip is my awakening as a creative, and as the writing sample chronicles only my third and fourth states of a 35-state trip, I don’t have awakening insights to share in that section because I hadn’t experienced them yet. But that absence, that lack of awareness, needs to be conveyed to the reader.

The hills of Vermont, taken on my cross-country U.S. road trip last summer. I didn't know I'd be coming back to the state in less than a year.
I saw no dinosaurs in Vermont. Perhaps they were hiding amongst all of those trees.

I cheated a bit, sharing this submission first with my writer’s group. Last week these new friends told me my prose is rich with description and crisp in its utilitarian use of language. That’s my journalism at work.

But while my writer’s group colleagues liked meeting the creatives I profiled, they wanted more of me, of how these creatives affected me. They wanted to relate my experience to their own lives.

They wanted more pink.

It will be two weeks before my work is critiqued by my fellow MFA students. But I know in looking at their submissions that they all have their own balance of yellow, orange and pink. Some are almost all orange. Some are really heavy on the pink. I have more yellow than the others, but I’m okay with that, it’s part of my style, my voice.

They all have more pink than me. All of them. And while I am not trying to emulate someone else’s unique style, I am seeking to improve mine.

Thank you, readers of this blog. You’ve provided an audience for my experiment in sharing. This very post would not have been possible for me a year ago. Nor would a short work of creative nonfiction that is going to be published online this week by a literary journal, my first, modest success in my budding creative writing career. If that work were to be highlighted, it would also be heavily yellow, but that yellow prose “shows” the pink “tells” I include.

I have no illusions that folks out there are curious about my innermost thoughts and fears. But to the extent my thoughts and fears can connect with my readers and their insights and introspection – what my writer’s group members are seeking – I promise to put more pink on the page.

22 thoughts on “Revealing Yourself Through Your Art

  1. Wow, what a great post, Patrick! And what insight into your journey. You have such strong skills from journalism already that learning to add more of yourself into the narrative and explore the *why* will surely push your writing to new territory. Congrats on your first publication in a literary journal! Woo-hoo!

    Also, I love your color-coded system; your fellow workshop members are really lucky to have such an attentive reader. (One of my advisors at VCFA, the fabulous Ellen Lesser, also used a color-coded system with even more colors! She also tracked things like the use of time and theme). I look forward to meeting you at the residency in a few short weeks!



    1. Hi Sion! Thank you for this encouraging comment.

      I too look forward to meeting you, and attending your lecture on the “transatlantic commuter” James Baldwin, which sounds perfect given your own life choice!


  2. Patrick, congratulations on your upcoming publication! And best of luck with the MFA workshop.

    Thanks for all of the meaty info in this post. I love the horizontal/vertical way of looking at writing.

    Pink is the new you. 🙂

    ~ Lisa


  3. Wow, I love the highlighter method for reviewing your writing. Will definitely be using that.

    It’s exciting to think about how much you’re going to learn in your program! Just the structure and anticipation of it is already moving you forward. Very cool.

    Can’t wait to read your creative nonfiction piece this week!


    1. You know, that’s an excellent point about how the structure and anticipation is already paying dividends. It’s also putting me in a receptive frame of mind, which should help me get the most out of the 10-day residency.

      Ooh, I’ll have a reader for my piece! I’ll be sure to tweet a link once it’s posted, the editor said it would be this week.


  4. What a great idea with the highlighters, Patrick. And congrats on your published non-fiction as well as your entry/acceptance into the MFA program. I raise my virtual glass to you in your pursuit of “more pink!” (And understand, fully, your propensity for yellow since I was trained in journalism as well).


  5. Congratulations! And I completely agree with Kate! You will definitely have more than one reader! And continue to allow your “inner pink” to lead you through! 😉

    This visual for writing, the colors and the horizontal and vertical story aspects, is precisely what I needed to embrace the courage to move into my “graduate” level of my artistic goals. For the past few years I have been exploring various options for creative planning. Ways to incorporate “left-brain” principles of order without “homogenizing” those of us who adamantly resist routines — feigning death in order to avoid the dreaded lines and boxes of traditional planners! 😉

    My deepest gratitude for sharing your journeys on The Artist’s Road, Patrick! All the best to you as you continue onward!


    1. Much appreciated, stargardener, from the Right Brain Planner. Yes, the marker method seems to be me channeling my left brain a bit, but in pursuit of right brain advancement.

      So glad you’ll read my piece and you find value in The Artist’s Road! When the piece is up at Shaking Lit I’ll be sure to tweet a link.


  6. Patrick,

    Thanks for sharing this very personal part of your journey–and for continuing to post on your blog during your writing program. (I have hoped that you would.) I like the yellow, orange, pink process, and suspect I’ll end up thinking about my writing that way…even if I don’t buy the highlighters. I’m looking forward to hearing how your writing changes and unfolds.

    By the way, on a personal note, I wanted to say thank you. Several months ago, your thoughtful comments on my blog answered a question for me on a manuscript I am finishing. I know my writing is better as a result. Many thanks! Carolyn


    1. Wow, Carolyn, I’m amazed to learn I played a positive role in your writing. You have a really beautiful blog, I haven’t spent enough time there, I fear.

      I doubt I’ll post during the residency itself, but yes, I do plan to share what I learn and how I grow during the process; glad you welcome that!


  7. What a fascinating exercise for your writing. Just to be aware that you need more pink sounds like excellent prep for the workshop.

    I would tend to side with your writing group: though the stories of the creatives you interviewed have all been wonderful, I’ve been wanting more about how it impacted you personally, such as when you guest blogged for the FoW blog with your fears of rejection. I’m hoping your eventual book will have a rich vein of personal stuff, as well.

    I’m also planning to approach you later (whenever you’re not busy with your MFA program) to interview you for my travel blog. I’m curious about the effects that the travel aspect of your road trip had on you personally. Seeing 35 states in a short time, and with a clear mission, must have been quite something.

    Congrats on being accepted by the literary journal! Can’t wait to read that once it hits the Web.


    1. I’ve got one word re: the road trip — exhaustion! Happy to do an interview at some point when I’m back from residency.

      Yup, I was thinking about your feedback on the road trip artist/me stuff while writing this, you’re one of the readers who has asked for more from me. This blog is proving so useful in developing the book’s outline and structure.

      Excited about the lit piece. They just posted the latest today, that tells me I should be later this week or perhaps next week. I’ll tweet the link.


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