Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Painting Frescoes

 This photo is in the public domain.

In between other books – I’ve always got three or four going, not because I’m a genius but because my attention span isn’t all that long – I’ve been reading Andre Gide’s “Lafcadio’s Adventures.”

Two of Gide’s characters have the following exchange about the tedium of editing:
“Do you know what I dislike about writing? All the scratchings out and touchings up that are necessary.”

“Do you thing there are no corrections in life too?” asked Julius, beginning to prick up his ears.

“You misunderstand me. In life one corrects oneself – one improves oneself – so people say; but one can’t correct what one does. It’s the power of revising that makes writing such a colorless affair – such a . . . “ (He left his sentence unfinished.) “Yes! That’s what seems to me so fine about life. It’s like fresco-painting – erasures aren’t allowed.”
Now, aside from that twaddle on not being able to correct what one does – we do that all the time, Mr. Gide, even if we have to correct what we do by apology, by renunciation, by repentance – what these characters say is interesting about editing, or at least about the writing process.

When I wrote my first novel (and I love saying that now, though I know the process isn’t finished by a long shot) I took that fresco-painting approach: Full speed ahead, no corrections, no fussing, just write things down and move on. The fresco is a good metaphor, as traditional frescoes are done with paint applied to wet plaster, so the paint’s colors seep into the plaster. (Yeah, I know this is only the buon fresco method, that’s the metaphor that’s so apt.) The artist, once the plaster is applied, has to work fast because if the plaster dries out, the colors don’t seep in as they should.

The same with writing , at least from my point of view. Getting something down on paper is much more important the first time around than ensuring that what gets put down on paper is perfect. Then through the editing process – unlike with frescoes – we have the right to wet the plaster again and change the colors. We do get to redo what we do, but unless we’ve got the first draft of the fresco on the wall, there’s nothing to re-do, and all the fussing in the world with the little patch of fresco we’ve got won’t do us any good. We’ve got to finish the whole painting, then work on fixing the flaws.

No comments: