Growing up in the 1980s, I spent a lot of time watching PBS. My favorite was (and is) Bob Ross, celebrated mellow-man and painter extraordinaire. His soothing voice and the ASMR vibes from the sound of the paintbrush were intoxicating. They still are.
Besides being able to whip up a colorful mountainscape or forest painting in under thirty minutes, Ross imparted wisdom while he worked. Simple words, mic drop truths.
I got to thinking about Ross and his advice, realizing it applied as much to a writer’s creative experience as someone picking up a paintbrush and putting it to canvas. Bob Ross was much more than a source of painting entertainment. He was a fount of wisdom. Here are some of his best nuggets.
“We don’t make mistakes, just happy little accidents.”
This is perhaps one of Ross’ most famous catchphrases. He’d swipe some paint in the wrong place and then transform it into a rock or another tree. Instead of allowing his rogue stroke to ruin the whole painting, he used it to change things up.
While finding an error in a published piece or missing a deadline can feel like a mistake, learning from such “happy accidents” can yield wisdom we wouldn’t have gained otherwise. Perspective matters.
I once made an offhanded comment I didn’t realize was offensive. A friend brought it to my attention, and I later wrote an article about it. My gaffe led to an article that ended up getting tons of traffic and opened an online dialogue on an important topic. I couldn’t have planned it, but it ended up being a happy accident on several levels.
“Talent is a pursued interest. Anything that you’re willing to practice, you can do.”
No kidding. In the same way we must practice making a tree with a fan brush, this advice applies to writing as well. The way to become a better writer is to practice. Read. Write. Edit. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
One of the greatest mistakes writers can make is thinking we should get it right on the first try. Nobody’s writing output is ready-to-publish. Even the best of the best. Revising, editing, and even stepping away from a project for a while are all part of the creative process.
Anything worth publishing must go through several incarnations before we hit publish. Talent is indeed a pursued interest. Keep writing, chasing, and pressing on.
“All you need to paint is a few tools, a little instruction, and a vision in your mind.”
Change the word “paint” for the word “write”, and it still works. You don’t need fancy equipment or a college degree in English to be a writer. You need a few tools (laptop, pen/paper), a little instruction and advice, and an idea for a story.
If you have these things, you can create. Sometimes we spend more time fretting and preparing to do something than actually doing it. Get ready, set, and write. Don’t wait until everything is just so.
“The secret to doing anything is believing that you can do it. Anything that you believe you can do strong enough, you can do. Anything. As long as you believe.”
This one can be tricky. Many writers struggle with impostor syndrome. Ross’ advice here is actually an antidote for self-doubt. Self-affirming talk is key. What are we telling ourselves about our creative work?
Do you believe you can finish your novel? Do you believe you can pitch a freelance client and land a job? Do you believe you can research and write a great feature article?
The answer to these questions will be the determining factor. Bob Ross is right. If you believe you can or you believe you can’t, you’re right either way.
I continue to learn from Bob Ross as I learn to paint and learn to write better. You can catch Bob Ross on YouTube if you want a soothing dose of painting and wisdom. It’s a pleasant brain break after writing.
Tracy is a New Jersey writer who loves Earl Grey tea, spending time outside, and painting. She lives with her husband and children in a home where birdsong and rainstorms provide the soundtrack for her creative life.