I started painting with my grandpa when I was two years old. I don’t remember it then, but that’s what my grandpa says. Of course, my grandpa also tells people he makes his paintings using popsicle sticks and toilet paper, and he even once told a lady at the ice rink that he was a retired Olympic ice skater. But, I believe him about the painting at two. I’ve seen some of my earliest works and I have to believe I was two when I created them for reasons of self-preservation.
Being brought up so closely to a master of a creative process as amazing as turning tubes of oil paint into epic stories for people to cherish for decades has taught me a lot about all creative processes. The most important thing I have learned, is that not everything works. Actually, that’s the second most important. The first, is that creative people are usually straddling the line between greatness and chaos–not me, I’m still hopping up and down, trying to get a glimpse over the line from my spot in Chaotic Corner, Apt. #256789.
My grandfather’s number one rule–the very first thing he always tells me to do–is to get as much of the canvas covered, as quickly as possible. Get the paint on there, but keep it thin, so you can scrape it off or add more layers later on. Seeing the canvas covered gives you a sense of accomplishment, a sense of relief as the white disappears under your brushstrokes. Don’t worry about the details at first. Don’t be too scared to start. It took me a decade to realize this works the same with writing. Get the words on the page, keep writing, don’t stop until you have as much of the story stamped down as you can. But, don’t get too attached, in case you have to go back in with some thinner and erase an entire character.
One day, not too terribly long ago, I was trying to paint a portrait of my daughter. She was the subject, and I was slaving away trying to get her perfectly outlined. My grandpa came in after a few hours of this, took one look at it and said, “Now, don’t be afraid to wipe something out and start over.” Which brings me to my next Grandpa lesson: Sometimes what you do sucks, and you have to start over. Sometimes a canvas needs to be chucked out the window or burnt in the fireplace. Getting upset or taking it personally isn’t going to make your creation any better, so just suck it up and start over.
Another trick about painting, is that it helps to look at your masterpiece in a mirror from far away. But, I actually haven’t figured out how that applies to writing, yet. You know what? We’ll come back to that one later.
The hardest part about painting or writing a scene is knowing when to leave it the hell alone. Sometimes you just keep telling yourself it can be better. Just one more finishing stroke, one more reflection, one more shadow… then before you know it, you’ve completely ruined the entire damn thing and no matter what you do, it’s never the same and you end up cussing and ripping your hair out. So, don’t do that.
Oh, and if you do manage to create something people love and cherish, and they want to know how you did it, make up something so ridiculous your grandkid eventually writes a blog post about it.