One way I break out of a writing block is to switch to a completely different art form—usually one at which I’m a pure novice. Trying to get a grip on the basics of an unfamiliar form often refreshes my sense of the essentials in fiction writing.
This is why in the summer of 2018 I signed up for a day-long mosaic workshop. I had no idea that the visiting instructor was a woman recognized internationally for designing and leading large community mosaic projects (walls, walkways, etc.). So I was astonished to find the workshop packed with attendees ranging from complete novices like me to well-known local mosaic artists.
We’d been told to bring small items (coins, stones, gems) to incorporate into our mosaic pieces. I soon discovered that several of the students had brought along a lot of ego and emotion as well. Some of the seasoned artists were highly competitive, busily snatching up the choicest of the tiles and glass pieces the teacher’s assistants had set out on the tables. And among my fellow newbies there were a few of a type that drives me bonkers: People who babble about how terrified and incompetent they are, literally begging people not to look at what they are doing, while all the time making such an ungodly racket that it’s impossible to ignore them.
I’m fairly confident about my design skills, but had to work hard to follow the directions and then master the techniques for cutting tiles, affixing pieces, and adding grout. I soon figured out a design I liked, came to grips with the results of my clumsy gluing technique, and turned my attention to what was going on around me.
The instructor was moving from person to person, offering some of the most tactful advice and heartfelt encouragement I’d ever heard from a teacher. A few of the attendees, completely wrapped up in their creations, were experiencing fear and frustration. One woman, who revealed that the small items she’d brought had belonged to a daughter who had died recently, simply melted down.
I was fascinated by the instructor’s almost magical ability to validate each person’s struggle to rise to their creative challenges—essentially transforming their roadblocks into stepping stones. In the long run, learning that approach to art would be far more effective than learning how to apply grout evenly. I now had what I’d come for—and it wasn’t a mosaic.
What I experienced in the workshop that day led to my story “Pieced Together,” which I am delighted to say will appear in the anthology The Art of Being Human from Fablecroft Press.
Note: Fablecroft is doing a Kickstarter campaign for the anthology (it’s now aiming for stretch goals). While the ebook will be for general sale, print copies will be available only to backers of the Kickstarter.