Repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition, etc.

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.

Pen sketches.

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.

Finished painting.

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.



Filed under art, writing

4 responses to “Repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition, etc.

  1. I guess they use the same ones ’cause they don’t know any others.

  2. Dae

    I have actually been thinking about this, especially since the Lit. Review’s nominations for best bad sex writing have come out recently.

    I think that many writers feel like they’re drowning, and if they let go of the words they’ve already written, they’re deep-sixing their life-rafts. When really, the *reader* is the one who’s drowning, and it’s the writer’s job to throw him a rope. I think it was E.B. White who said that.

    And a “rope” doesn’t always mean “more words,” or being overly explicit, or repeating things all the time. Sometimes it means cutting for the sake of clarity.

    Like the post! It’s been a while since you’ve been around…

  3. I suspect that Nick Cave’s bad sex writing was purposeful. And isn’t John Updike nominated every year?

    I guess it’s tough to know when to cut something and when to hold on to it. And so few writers have the luxury of time to write that perhaps it’s literally an issue of being forced to go with the material they have time to produce.

    I’m going to post again soon–I got waylaid with other projects and, er, well, other excuses, I suppose.

  4. Julie

    Though I like the way the feet are positioned in the study as well, I think having both the feet and the hands cut off in the final piece is quite effective. It emphasizes the dehumanization and pain of the figure in the foreground.

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