I’ve begun to wonder why writers seem so hung-up on reusing the same tired words in and the same troublesome scenes. Perhaps this is only my trouble: a persistent habit of revising drafts not by using the rough as a vague blueprint from which to rewrite the entire story, but by lopping off a paragraph here, bloating a scene there. Maybe for some people it works, but for me it doesn’t seem to.
In painting, studies (often many, many studies) are often integral creating the finished work. When create a study, it is usually in order to get out all my worst ideas first: boring composition, anatomically incorrect angles, badly chosen palettes and other rudimentary problems. Studies also help me to establish what is working well, visually, so that I can reproduce it in the final work.
Why is it that this repetitive process seems less frequently used by writers? The late great JG Ballard rewrote his novels using the previous draft not as gospel but as a reference or rough guide. His process strikes me as more useful than what I’ve been doing up until now: trying to tweak large, unwieldy slabs of story, becoming frustrated when nothing quite works, when nothing really fits.
Some of the studies I create toward finished paintings engage viewers on their own; many have at least a few redeeming features (for example, I like the position of the feet in the studies; but, due to sizing and proportion issues, I didn’t paint any feet into the final work). However, they tend to pale in comparison to the final work, because they contain many of the problems that have been resolved by the time I set out to create a polished painting.
I’m going to take a leaf from Ballard’s book (not literally, of course), and try to apply this method to writing as well. I suspect that it may yield good things.
I bet there are a million of you out there talking about this, just like me–so “if you see something, say something.” That is to say, if you’ve been thinking or working along similar lines, don’t hesitate to chime in.