We just spent a little more than a week in New York, near the sea and our two daughters, and my heart is still singing. On the rug there’s a little pile of sand that spilled from my shoe just after we got home, and I refuse to sweep it up.
We went into The City one afternoon to check out the new Met Breuer, where we saw a heart-stopping exhibit of Diane Arbus’s early photos (I’ll write more on that for sure) and “Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible”, a fascinating exhibit of art never completed, for one reason or another.
By now I should know better, but I still tend to torment myself with the idea that turning an idea into a work of art comes easy for other people. At least for geniuses. But here were unfinished canvases by Cezanne, Picasso, El Greco, Klimt, some scrapped after many tries to get them right, some interrupted by illness or sorrow or even death, some abandoned for unknown reasons. It was a chance to see the way a painting takes shape layer by layer, how outlines are filled in, sketches given dimension and texture. To remind myself that creating something where there was nothing is not supposed to be easy.
Some of the art, like a group of glorious canvases by Turner, was perfect in its imperfection. In a NY Times article on the show, one viewer said, “An artist is never finished, so their art is never finished. When you finish it, you kill it. Leaving it unfinished, you keep it alive.”
Yes. No book I’ve ever written was as good as I meant it to be. Nowhere near as good as my racing heart hoped to make it. And this is another reason I’m so grateful to readers, who take an imperfect thing and find their own beauty in it.
Almost there! The ending is in my heart and, at this point more important, in my head. I’m pushing aside all the things I know I will have to go back and fix, cut, add, just keeping that ending within my sights.
Well, that’s what I wish I was doing. In fact I’m still having too many moments when I make characters walk in and out of rooms, slump into chairs or bolt to their feet, tap their chins and furrow their brows: in other words, stall.
A quote I came across this morning in Poets and Writers (procrastinating? me?):
“When I am stuck in the perfection cog—as in, I am rewriting a sentence a million times over even though I’m in a first draft or, I am freaking out and can’t move forward because I am not sure how everything is going to fit together—I find it helpful to tell myself: You will fail. I have this written on a Post-it note. It might sound discouraging, but I find it very liberating. The idea is that no matter what I do, the draft is going to be flawed, so I might as well just have at it. I also like to look at pictures I’ve taken of all the many drafts that go into my books as they become books, which helps me remember that so much of what I am writing now will later change. When I am aware that my work is not as brave or true as it needs to be, I like to look at a particular photograph of myself as a child. I am about eight, sitting on a daybed in cut-off shorts, with a book next to me. I’m looking at the camera with great confidence, and an utter lack of self-consciousness. This photograph reminds me of who I am at my essence, and frees me up to write more like her.”
—Anna Solomon, author of Leaving Lucy Pear (Viking, 2016) http://www.pw.org/content/anna_solomon_0
Thank you, Anna. And now back to work…