Do you ever feel like your brain could do with some oil? Or maybe WD40, perhaps. Something, at least, to help it to move freely, like the supple youth it once was. I’d love to be able to give my brain a soothing bath, from which it would emerge relaxed and refreshed, possibly swathed in a fluffy robe, ready to attack the world once more.
Yesterday was one of those days where I felt that for every inch forward I managed to crawl, I was being forced to take ten steps back. I spent most of my day undoing and rewriting bits of the chapter I’m currently working on, and reading what I’ve done on ‘Omphalos’ so far with a critical eye, seeing where I could improve it. And, like everything, the more I prodded and poked at it the more stodgy and ridiculous it seemed to become, until I threw in my lot and left it alone. I haven’t been brave enough yet today to even open my file to have a look.
It got me thinking about the way I write, and made me remember something I learned years ago. When I was younger, at school, I liked art. I still do like to draw, but I never find the time to get to it any more. One of the things I remember most clearly about my art lessons was that my teacher once told me I had a very ‘definite line’, by which he meant I looked carefully at what I was going to draw and let it sink in to my mind before I put my pencil near the paper. Then, I just put my line down with confidence and a heavy hand, reasonably sure that I wouldn’t need to erase it or change it very much. I had never noticed this before he said it (I just drew the way I’d always drawn), but he was right. I wasn’t the kind of person who drew lightly on the page so that corrections or adjustments would be easily made; my lines were heavy, sure and hard to remove.
This isn’t to say I was some sort of artistic savant who never put a nib wrong – of course I did, often. But my style never changed. I always drew the same way, with that strong, heavy hand. I think I like to write the same way – or, at least, that seems to be how my ‘creative’ brain works, and so I feel the impulse to write the same way as I draw. It not so easy when you’re writing, though, of course – getting your ‘line’ right on the first attempt is much harder when you’re talking about a storyline instead of a pencil line. Perhaps that’s why I feel it so strongly, like a failure in my heart, when I have to unpick something completely and redo it from the ground up. I feel like it should work, so when it doesn’t, it makes me wonder if everything – my idea, my method, my style, my work – is flawed and wrong.
Another piece of advice my old art teacher gave me was this: ‘It’s easier to darken your darks than lighten your lights.’ By this, of course, he meant it’s easier to add to a piece than it is to take bits away. Particularly when you’re talking about pencil marks or charcoal shading. If you go too heavy with your charcoal on a picture, it’s virtually impossible to lighten it. It’s easier to go over the entire picture and make the whole thing darker so that your overworked bit looks lighter by comparison, or just chuck the lot and start again. I wish I hadn’t forgotten this good advice as I set out on this writing lark – I think the work I’ve done so far would’ve benefited immensely from remembering those wise words. Start off sketchy and light, hinting at the outline of a piece, until you’re happy with the structure and the overall picture. Then go back over it and add detail – a wisp of shade here, a suggestion of texture there, a glint of light dancing over the eyes perhaps. Then, step back and reassess. If the piece needs more, add it a little bit at a time. But always be aware that sometimes the piece will need a light touch, and adding too much (whether it’s words or pigment) will destroy it.
But this is all very easy to say, isn’t it? If you have a style – a natural style – it’s difficult to overcome it and write (or draw) a different way, even if you know on an intellectual level that it’ll make things easier or more manageable. If you write (or draw, or whatever) in a way that comes effortlessly, maybe it’s impossible to teach yourself to do it differently.
And maybe the lesson I should take from all this is just to take it easy, and work with my natural style instead of against it. But I think I’ll bear my art teacher’s words in mind, regardless – the advice about lightening your lights and darkening your darks is a good rule for life, as well as art! Live lightly, except with those who matter; focus your effort and your ink on people and things which are important to you.
Happy Friday, and have a wonderful weekend, everyone.