The “Art” of Writing

A “one shot” print occurs when an artist creates a plate for an intaglio print by engraving or etching, and then pulls a trial print so good that it requires no alteration to improve it before making the final prints. When I was in college printmaking classes, no one ever managed to do this feat. People kept re-etching parts of plates to make the prints better. Of course, this did not destroy the essence of the print.

Writing is very similar. It is the rare case when an author composes a poem or piece of prose in one sitting that requires no changes. The longer the work, the more revision is necessary. It takes extended concentration and effort to produce quality writing for any period of time. Novels are a huge effort. When working on visual art projects, the artist periodically pulls back to view the work and get an honest view of how good (or bad) it is. The equivalent action is reviewing and revising what has already been written, an action that does not destroy the essence of the story.

There are differences between creating a piece of art and writing a book. An intaglio plate can be over-etched, or a drawing overworked. There is no salvaging it. The artist can only start over again with a new printing plate or piece of paper. No novel is a complete disaster. There may be large sections that have to be cut or rewritten and improved. But at least part of it is salvageable, even if there is not enough to make a complete work until more is added.

When I taught art, I would attempt to keep students from making mistakes and filling the trash can with ruined assignments. This required outlining steps to complete assignments. Typically they were assigned to use a medium with three or four criteria to fulfill for a specific piece. The limitations that I put on their work actually took stress off of the students. If they met the criteria, they would receive a passing grade. Gradually their work became more creative because they felt the liberty to innovate and not just imitate the work of someone who had made a good grade before.

However, there was a student who produced this stunning piece of art that did not completely fill one of the four criteria. Breaking my limitations actually made the work better. He was already the best artist in the class and knew how to compose his art and create effects that others did not. I could give him a high grade, but not a perfect one, and explained to him why. I also told him it was an excellent piece that should go into his portfolio.

Putting limits on my writing goals lets me work within a framework. I don’t feel the pressure of perfection. Each step to a goal is one toward getting something accomplished with my current work in progress. I do not use a word count to measure my progress. Rather I gauge it by the amount of content I have created. Sometimes, after working within limitations I find that I must toss them aside to create something better—a piece of literature that breaks the mold.

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1 Response to The “Art” of Writing

  1. I used to be confident that I could get any piece of writing right in one go. Then I actually put my ego aside and started rewriting, and that’s when I realised just how unpolished a first draft could be. Thankfully, it’s been a long time since then, and that has helped me write for a living. Anyway, thanks for this post!

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