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The joy of editing – and why mugs and novels are very similar

November 7, 2012 Leave a comment

I spend the morning at Honeypot Ceramics at Ratho, painting mugs for Christmas presents.  What I thought would be a lovely, relaxing morning turned out instead to be quite a stressful experience.  In my head I had an image of the finished article, but could I translate this into paint-on-mug?  No, I couldn’t.  I just didn’t have the skill to transfer what I saw in my minds’ eye onto the mug in front of me.

And that got me thinking – isn’t this just like writing?  I have this idea of what I want to achieve, but when it comes to putting it into words on paper, it’s not so easy to do, and often falls far short of what I intended.

This morning I was painting my mugs with ceramic paints, which pale into pastel versions of themselves as they dry and then become much brighter and bolder when they are fired.  As I watched, some colours became so pale that they were almost indistinguishable.  By the time I’d “finished” (maybe “gave up” would be a better expression!) I had absolutely no idea what my mugs will look like when they come out of the kiln.  I lost track of which bits I’d given second and third coats to and once the colours had faded in, there was no way of telling.

Again – how like writing!  If I’m working on a novel, it’s so difficult to keep track of all the pieces and it’s tricky to know if it will all hang together in the end.

When my mugs come out of the kiln in a week or so, then I’ll be able to tell how well (or not!) I’ve succeeded.  And then comes the big difference between paint on ceramic and words on paper.  If the mugs are not how I imagined them – then tough.  Once they’re fired, the paint is fixed.  But with words, everything is still fluid.  Anything can change.  I can rearrange or rewrite or discard.  I can write in whole new scenes or remove whole characters.  I can start again in the first person instead of the third.  I can bring in a new plot line or scrap a story line which isn’t working.

And that is the joy – and the curse – of editing.  I’m off to do some now – wish me luck!

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