I used to make pottery once. Really enjoyed it.
There's nothing in the world so soothing and therapeutic as sitting at a potters wheel with the wet slip of symmetrical clay running through your fingers As you watch, breath held, the vessel sinuously rises, spinning walls growing taller with each pull of your fingers.
It sounds almost pornographic, doesn't it. And, it is. Clay is a sensual medium. For me, it was utterly addictive. I knew many potters back then, but the one who most influenced me was a Danish lady called Bente.
She was a professional artist and made her living constructing, glazing and firing pots. I would watch in awe as she threw mammoth urns almost as tall as herself. Other times, delicate porcelain tea cups would flow from her fingers, so fine that, after firing, you could see shadows through them. We would question her endlessly on how she did it.
One exercise that Bente recommended to beginning (and not-so-beginning) potters was to work up 48 identical balls of clay, then spend the day making 48 mugs or bowls or whatever form you were trying to master. As you finished each pot, you took a wire cutter and sliced the pot up through the middle, from base to rim. In this way, you could study your technique - the evenness of the walls, the thickness in the base and so on. When you moved on to the next ball of clay, it was with the knowledge of what went wrong and what went right. It was really hard.
Many times, I could not do it and set the pot aside to be turned and fired. When you can't make a perfect thing by choice, but then produce one by accident, you are filled with angst about destroying it. But, as we practised and improved, we began to understand. Technical proficiency creates confidence. Sustained practice doesn't mute creativity. It hones it. Your abilities become stronger. There's less worry about being able to replicate success, making mistakes or what others think of your work. Fewer chewed nails, more pots.
Now, many years later, I sit at a computer, my potter's fingers flying over the keyboard. I wrestle with chunks of text, pulling them up, smoothing them down. Layer upon layer of words grow, changing form as I manipulate them. Like throwing a pot, there is a mysticism to the process. Any number of happy accidents can occur. I love that serendipitous moment when a word or phrase just comes. Unbidden Yet, more and more often now, I re-read and delete them. Heartlessly. Without a flicker of remorse.
Wendy Palmer, writer and blogger, explains. "it’s important to not get so attached to scenes or dialogue that you can’t bring yourself to cut them for the sake of the overall story ...There’s also the danger of falling in love with a particular phrasing and then failing to see that it doesn’t make the point you need it to make; your attachment obscures your message. That’s why it is important to have an editor, an independent first reader, or at the very least a long gap between writing and editing".
You have to be willing to slice it up the middle to make it better the next time. Thanks Bente.
I still love potting. I intend to get back to it one day. Actually, I have to. Because for a potter, I own very little pottery.
One night, a few years ago, the shelf where I displayed my work, crashed down off the wall. Smashing just about every piece. Here's a picture of one of the few that survived.
I guess the writing analogy would be BACK UP YOUR WORK folks. And don't keep it all in the same place.
And re-making the pots? Well, all that practice is behind me. The hard part's done.
Are you a hoarder of words? Do you find it hard to destroy what you've made?
Mrs Catch xx
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