How does a painter do it?

How does a painter become objective about their own work… every little brush-stroke has been applied by them, usually at the distance of the length of their arm or closer… so how can they become emotionally and critically objective about a work they are doing? Do they squint at it? Stand on their heads? Photograph it and look at it on their computers? Do they go away and leave it for a month then come back and look at it again… how do they manage to see it with fresh eyes?

This isn’t just an idle thought – I’m editing my novel Radwinter, and I feel as if I am so close to the main character (I have lived in his skin for the past ten weeks!) that I cannot properly see any faults. Oh, I can find the spelling mistakes and grammatical errors; I can spot the inconsistencies and holes in the plot, I’ve noticed where something is either introduced and goes nowhere or is mentioned and then never referred to again… But how do I stand back far enough to read it as someone else would read it?

One way is to read it out loud to myself, I don’t just mean muttering under my breath, but read it as if I was on Book of the Week, or Morning Story on Radio 4… muttering in the study is what my husband calls it!

7 Comments

  1. seascapesaus

    It must be more difficult for a writer than a painter Lois. With a painting it is possible to grasp the whole all at once (and see the elements as well as the sum and interaction of the parts). Do you create a map of the plot to see that – is that even possible? For me passage of time really helps. Because I have learned a lot since then, some of my paintings from 3 years ago are just asking to be fixed. Tough to apply that to writing unless you leave books on the back-burner!

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    1. Lois

      You’re right – time does add perspective… but with this book I have just written it seems different, it really seems to hang together as a complete thing in a way which hasn’t happened before…

      No, I don’t have a map… I may have a hazy notion of where I’m going, and occasionally I might end up very near there, but more likely I do a 360 degree turn and end up somewhere completely different!

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  2. Peter Bull

    When you’re close in time to the creation of something, I think it’s impossible for you as the creator to be completely objective about it. That’s why the writing process benefits so much from the involvement of an external editor – not just to pick up the obvious small errors, but to approach the whole of the thing for the first time, and to see if there are holes in the fabric of it that you need a certain distance away from it to be able to spot.

    I know I can’t judge whether a drawing or painting of mine is any good until I’ve all but forgotten doing it and I can then see it with fresh eyes. Most of my stuff that isn’t complete rubbish goes into a plan chest drawer for a couple of years and then I pull them all out occasionally and choose the ones to keep and the ones to bin – and they are often not the choices I would have made straight after I’d done them.

    I think the mapping suggestion is interesting, particularly if you don’t have or don’t want another person to edit your work – not before you start to help you write it, that might constrain you too much, but to help you analyse it now it’s completed. Summarising/mapping the actions and the plot points in the order that you encounter them through the book might well help you now to see what might be missing or unresolved.

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