Last weekend I was painting birthday cards for my mother and my middle nephew. I decided to leave all the sketch lines in place, because I like seeing them. My nephew (18 now!) was looking at his and said, “Do you ever make mistakes?” which surprised me a little because… the whole process was there on the page.
The trick seems to be that if you make enough mistakes everyone thinks the right line is in there somewhere. But that, of course, is the whole process — drawing enough lines that I can average out the most pleasing one to follow.
I do the same thing when writing — putting in all the adjectives in early drafts, in the hopes that when I come back to edit it the right word will be in there somewhere. And if it isn’t there, I should be able to triangulate the word I wanted based on the ones I used.
(I’ve been thinking about this in relation to editing, too — when I started writing I’d hear people say they did 17 drafts of a story and I’d be daunted and disgusted, but now it’s a relief to get to draft 5 and say, it’s okay, I get another 12 tries before it needs to look respectable.)
But back to the weekend: I realised that I’d already complained about my habit of doing things to many times earlier the same day, having recently re-discovered how much simpler it is to trick myself into doing six versions of a project than it is to do just one draft. Part of this is contrariness and indecision. But it’s also a way of feeling my way to the project I want to do — while also spreading the weight of expectation over multiple projects.
It isn’t efficient, except in the sense that it gets things done — and sometimes that’s the only efficiency that counts.
Something I’ve discovered recently, doing project post-mortems, is that if I don’t have art direction I end up taking at least two projects quite close to completion before I make a final decision. It thins out the available self-doubt.