ETA: I was nearly finished with this blog post when the Paris terrorist attack happened. Since that awful day, I’ve struggled to make sense of that senseless act. I contemplated deleting this post to write instead about that day, what it means…
I’ve decided to go ahead with this post. Writing is the thing that keeps me grounded, and as I work my way through the process of editing my novel–do that work–I’m allowing myself the time to work through and sort out those other things. I need time to figure out how I feel about what happened. About this world we live in.
In truth, I welcome the respite. Perhaps you do, too.
Way back when, in a different life, I studied graphic art (I may have mentioned that once or twice before 🙂 ). One of my projects featured an elm leaf. I wanted to somehow capture the muted colors of autumn whilst drawing attention to the simple line of the leaf’s middle vein.
Following is a photograph of my original work of art: the elm leaf positioned against a background of dusky green and muted purple, those colors divided by the thinnest verticality of pale green: my attempt to pay homage to nature’s perfect and beautiful simplicity.
But everything can be changed, right?
I’ve been thinking about that question lately as it relates to my writing; specifically, the short (51K) novel that I’ve been editing and revising for the better part of a month now. The more I edit, the more I wonder if I’m doing the right thing. In my quest to make my novel better, am I losing the essence of the story; tweaking its best qualities until nothing is recognizable, or nothing of value remains?
Today, as I happened to be looking through old artwork, I came across my little elm leaf project. I looked at it for a long time and found myself second-guessing my choices. Maybe I should have chosen more vibrant colors for the thing. Maybe the original wasn’t interesting enough.
Maybe, if I change it. . .
Through the magic of virtual editing, I was able to do just that: tweak texture and color, soften and sharpen and why not? Art is ripe for change, and that goes for writing as well as the visual arts.
But how much is too much? Over-edit, and you run the risk of losing the original, sullying its purity. Different isn’t always better, to wit: I brightened the colors, but lost the muted feel of the original, and lost the significance of that pale, thin line.
I messed with texture to the point of reducing nature’s delicacy to a garish graphic image.
I blurred echoed lines right out of existence.
Mess with something long enough, your original is lost in translation.
No doubt there is an audience for one of the above tweaked versions. And yes, I can and do appreciate the merits of each.
But my original vision–my purpose–was reflected in that original work of art. The simplicity of line. The understated beauty of nature’s own design. In my mind, I had already accomplished what I’d set out to do. But in an effort to make a good thing better, I lost what I had.
In writing, as in art, one needs to recognize when to draw the line.