I am writing an essay for a friend’s arts blog (one of the really HUGE ones in the field) and I’ve been nurturing the little beast for several weeks now. This has granted me a perspective on editing that might not have made as much sense otherwise. And of course this also relates to any form of our creativity and how it evolves over time.
Here is my take on editing as of 2:35am this morning:
One thing I read recently is something to the effect that editing is never completed, you just reach a point where you give up or its taken from you. Perfect is the enemy of the good, and good enough sometimes has to be acceptable.
So I have arrived at a point where my edits are all playing games with myself as its audience, and I see my efforts more as a war with my own stupidity than is perhaps healthy. Good editing is a triumph over some poor past version of myself that foolishly thought he was close to the mark. And unfortunately each new good edit proves what an obtuse idiot I am capable of being
Each time I say something new and brilliant I feel like a temporary genius. Temporary because the next time I look I feel exposed by all the ways I could phrase it differently.
I think the truth is that each new version is its own document, a slice of my mind as it was at that point in time. There is never going to be a best version because there is no ideal being aimed at. Its more like a person standing in a stream with a fishing rod: there are days when you catch things and others you return home empty handed. But there is always a new day and different fish to catch.
The truth is that writing is a process and not a product. The product is only ever what you have at any one point to show for yourself…… In other words, its a mythology of the present tense.
What I am pointing to is that we are often fixated on the current project we are involved in. The truth is that what we are doing has roots and influences that go deep into our past, versions that are incipient, some that are dead ends, others that are laid aside to gestate, but that all these things are an actual part of what we do. We are never just making this one mug or that one bowl. Each of these things has a debt it pays to mugs and bowls we have previously made. It pays homage to things we’ve never made but which we’ve seen others make. Its a continuum spreading in all directions, and the present you is only ever a point somewhere that is bound up in the threads of its entire relations. The product is never only just this one thing we’ve made, but our entire history of thought and industry that lead us to this point. Its never simply a thing in isolation When its understood that way its an amputation from its own interconnectedness.
In other other words, editing gives us the illusion that there is some finished version, some idea that both encapsulates what we are expressing and articulates it fully. The truth is that we get as close as we can to an idea, but that over time the target itself will shift. What we thought we were aiming at is now something less interesting, sometimes subtly and often dramatically. We look back and we can see that we got it wrong. We should have done it differently. If only we knew then what we know now. And so it continues on and on. It evolves as we evolve. The ideal slips from our grasp like a dog chasing its tail: As we move to catch it, the thing we are chasing is dragged further from us.
The only exception is actually making a product that stands entirely alone, that neither looks back at its origins, nor looks forward to its potential. Some things are just done, like a mathematical equation, and there is no other possible outcome that would count. The stand alone cuts itself off from evolution, denies its past and pleads ignorance of its future. Its done. Its over. Its been accomplished. Its the perfection of stasis rather than the messy ambiguity of the living.
But that’s not really art, is it? That’s not really what we do as artists and creative thinkers? That’s not how creativity works for us? At best we seem to be making sketches whose relative physical permanence outlasts our own confidence in what they were aiming for. (Which is why intentions are important but almost always overrated, a paradox of being human 🙂 )
Stuff to think about, at least!
Make beauty real!