There are no Mistakes in Art

I stumbled across a blog post today about insecurity and writing. I have to say that it got me thinking a little bit. The author’s point was that all writers are insecure. He says that we have doubts and fears that plague us as we write and, most, generally, those fears have everything to do with what we are creating. As writers, we are pouring our hearts into a creation that is completely and wholly from ourselves. There is nothing about a creation that is not a reflection of its creator.

I can relate to that – for the most part, anyway. As I think about that idea, I must say that I truly believe that I am a good writer. But there’s a catch. I don’t necessarily believe that everything I write is good. Sometimes, it isn’t. I mean, there are some chapters in The Timekeeper’s Son that I must have completely rewritten five or six or seven times. There were points where I would read the text and think to myself that it was total crap. And so, I would rewrite it. And I would feel better about it until the next time the feeling struck.

This makes me think back to an art teacher I had in high school. She used to say that there was no such thing as a mistake in art. One time, she took her brush and made a big ugly streak across a bit she had been working on. At that moment, it looked as though she had completely wrecked it. She didn’t say a word, though. She moved on to another part of the painting for a few minutes until the mistake dried. Then, she went back to it and painted over it until it seemed that it had never been there at all. The mistake had been erased from existence.

In writing, we have an unlimited capacity to erase our mistakes. At least, that is, until we publish. Once we publish, it is a permanent record that contains our art as it was when we released it into the world. But we have all the creative liberty in the world before that point. We can paint over it again and again until we are finally satisfied with the result.

The question is, though, how do you know when to stop? If writers are inherently insecure and doubt their work, wouldn’t we just keep editing forever? Wouldn’t we fall into the inescapable trap of endless revision? We can and many of us do. The curse of many artisans is to be indelibly aware of every flaw in what they have built. One of my hobbies is woodworking and I can easily point out the imperfections in my pieces. The same is true in my music, and the same is true in my writing.

But at some point, you have to be able to say it is good enough. You have to be able to look at a piece of work and say that it was your best. You must be able to accept your writing as it is and make no apologies for it. That isn’t to say it will be perfect. One thing I’ve said repeatedly is that we don’t need to be perfect. We just have to put out our best effort and then go with it.

One approach to this that seems to be working for me is a deadline. If you have a publisher, a deadline is just part of the deal. If you don’t, then you can create it for yourself. I have drawn the proverbial line in the sand and said my book is going to be released on September 3rd. That means any changes have to be done in time for the final manuscript to be approved for printing. I’m past the point of being able to do major revisions, though. Major revisions can introduce new issues, and that can be a very bad thing this close to publication.

So I guess I’m saying that I think many of us would keep revising until the end of time if we let ourselves. But at some point, you have to step off the ledge. You have to put your work out there and hope for the best. Granted, there is a lot more to it than just hoping, but you get the point. Until then, you can revise and rewrite away, and you can take comfort in the fact that there are no mistakes in art. There are only opportunities to do things better.


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