Painting a room is much like writing my everyday life on this sliver of white space; I’m finished only when I’m willing to walk away from it.
Usually it’s because I’m satisfied with the result. But when not, I’ve learned to leave well enough alone — that is, until I know how to improve upon it.
Downstairs in my living room, I lived with a smudged and streaked ceiling for three years. After three failed attempts at getting it right, I realized I didn’t possess the skills to make it better. So I lived with it, looking up at it ever so often, as if wishing upon a star.
A few weeks ago I knew it was time to try again. I had just finished the dining room and had spent the last seven months painting for others. So, with my husband’s help, I emptied the room of all its furnishings and spread drops cloths all over the floor. And painting quickly, with a very wet roller cover, I covered the ceiling with paint and smoothed out the lines, trying not to look back on what I had just finished.
It doesn’t matter whether it’s painting or writing — it’s hard to move forward without a backwards glance, and not get caught up in fine-tuning what’s not ready for finishing touches. As it dries, a freshly painted ceiling will appear streaky when it’s not; and when I give in to temptation to roll-over those phantom streaks, I end up making streaks where there were none.
When I write, if I don’t continue to dash forward on my thoughts — instead editing away on what’s all ready there — I not only get derailed but often eliminate what ultimately could be an important thread. But it’s hard, so very hard to keep moving across this digital page, to see where my thoughts will take me, to encounter emptiness and white space.
I don’t have white spaces in my house. Unless one counts woodwork. Bathroom tile. And crisply painted white ceilings.
Great post! I agree it is hard to keep going forward in your writing without going back and editing. Even though I hate editing, if I don’t like a section I’ve just written it is hard for me to leave it alone.
Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. After paying you a return visit, I now appreciate more fully your comment and commitment to writing.
My son Kyle looks to be your age. He recently graduated from O.U. with a degree in Professional Writing. Kyle published his first book — an interactive zombie book, co-written with a friend — last weekend with Amazon Kindle. Watching from the sidelines, the publishing phase appeared frustrating since it required the resolution of many formatting issues.
I wish you well in your writing and chosen genre. I much prefer historical fiction over a book about zombies — but proud mother that I am, I do own a digital copy of Kyle’s first book!
Thanks for the well wishes. It is always good to find someone who appreciates historical fiction. I wish your son lots of success with his writing career. Can you tell me the title of his book? I will look it up.
Hey — thanks for asking. Their book is titled: “Night of the Necromancer: Can You Survive the Zombie Apocalypse?”
I confess to only reading the first page (I feel a need to add here — “so far”) — but my husband has read the entire book while still a working draft and really liked it.
Zombie games are big at O.U. — each spring students play an interactive game on campus — I believe the players wear some sort of armband to denote their participation.
Thanks to one of their O.U. professors, the O.U. website (http://www.ou.edu/content/web/landing/Articles/2011/January/studentauthors0111.html) is giving them some press — which so far, has resulted in interviews with the school newspaper and television news show. It’s all fun to watch from the sidelines.
I hope you and your writing life are blessed with a professor, similar to Kyle’s, that not only inspires, but provides such practical support.
This is so interesting. Annie Dillard talks about two ways of writing – it seems to me back in the days before you left for Iowa we might even have talked about them.
I’ve never written a piece “whole” and then gone back and “edited”, or done a second and third draft. I’m one who watches my writing roll out, leaf to bole to stem, as Dillard says, an organic whole from the beginning.
The other Dillard line I love is that she doesn’t so much write a book as “sit up with it, as with a sick friend”. What an image that is!
On the other hand, she talks about another writer whose urge to move forward, always forward, is so strong he’ll jump up from his desk, go out for a turn around the block and then come back and rip off another few paragraphs, until he slows and has to go out for another walk.
It’s just fascinating to me to read accounts of how others write. Clearly, there’s no one “right” way!
I, too, know that experience of “sitting up with a sick friend.” Mostly it comes before the writing begins, since I often live with an idea before I desire to write about it. But it also comes while taking a break from a piece in-process, when I’ve lost my way, for too many backward glances. So the process described in my post is my writing and painting at its best, when I am strong enough to move forward without a backwards glance.
My writing is much like sculpting — I begin with a block of white space and etch away at it to see what shows itself. The first pass takes the longest because uncertainty weights my pencil and fingers. Often I go back and cut out the first two paragraphs because they end up looking like unnecessary warm-up to the real exercise. The second phase is where the real shaping begins — I now have the vision and the challenge is to see whether I can render it true. Thereafter, it’s all about polishing. And here is where I’ve the least amount of discipline — for I lose interest when something becomes ‘good enough.’ Perhaps I’ve overcompensated from earlier posts when my son told me I was “combing too much.” Yet, isn’t it interesting that if I were to put together my top five posts, most would come from my earliest “too-combed” writings.
Certainly, this fine-combing is an important process — knowing when to pick up the comb and knowing when to stop and put it down. And this line of thought gives me something more to contemplate — and to you, I’m thankful, since it all begin with a response to your comment.