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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Horror Vacui

Horror Vacui is an art term that means fear of empty spaces.

Many moons ago, when I was at university, we had a young woman who stood in front of her canvas and just stared at it. She was terrified of making a mistake on her pristine board. The blank canvas was so intimidating, she couldn't confront it.

To cure her, the professor grabbed her widest brush, swished it in turpentine then daubed it into a gob of burnt umber. He scumbled the brush all over her canvas until the white was gone.

I thought the poor girl was going to have a heart attack.

Even though I don't suffer from horror vacui, I learned something that day that holds true even today. You're not going to ruin your canvas if you smear wide swaths of paint over it. And you're not going to ruin a story if you write 20,000 words before you know where you're going.

Horror vacui is almost always temporary, but when it hits you, it can be debilitating.

You have to be willing to make your mark, even if it's only a place holder. Cover your canvas with enough paint so that you have a foundation to work on.

The same goes for a novel. Just because you write forty pages of fireplace kindling doesn't mean anyone is going to see it. It's a warm-up session for the good words you'll write later.

The next time you stare at your computer screen, afraid you'll head in the wrong direction, remember that heart attack lesson and throw some words out there. Even if it's sewer sludge, it's better than the alternative.

You can always write over them later.

*

While I don't have a problem starting or finishing a novel (or a painting), I do have a serious mental blockage when it comes to kneaded dough.

Dough hates me. And I hate it back. So I just stare at it...and wait for Greg to show up so he can finish making something with that glob I started. --He's a very useful husband.

Have you ever suffered from horror vacui? How did you recover?

10 comments:

Jannette Johnson said...

I've never heard of this before. Mind if I tweet this?

Maria Zannini said...

Be my guest. :o)

Sherri said...

LOL...oh Maria we so need to get together in real life one of these days!!!

As for the words thing...saw a clip of Nora Roberts once where she said, "You can fix a bad page you can't fix a blank one." And that has always stuck with me.

As for the kneading...LOL, I used to have the same thing happen when I made bread. I remember breaking down and crying once, then called a friend who is a MASTER bread maker. She said you just want to punch it till it's smooth...guess what? It works!

Sherri said...

Oh, and on the pie crust...my mom added her 2 cents in the comments.

Maria Zannini said...

Sherri: You would think with the husband I have, I'd be good at punching. He moves fast though. It's hard to lay a glove on him. LOL!

But I will practice punching on dough next time.

Ref: your mom
I did see her comments! I try to remember to subscribe to comments when I visit a blog.

Thanks!

Sherri said...

REF: punching the dough

LOL...Joyce says that's how she deals with her frustrations! She makes bread, LOL.

Heather B. Moore said...

Great post ;)

When I'm writing a book, I tell myself "You can change it later" . . . that way I'm able to overcome the insecurities.

Maria Zannini said...

Hi Heather,

Ref: "You can change it later"

I say that about bed sheets too. LOL!

Elana Johnson said...

I'm so glad to hear you say I don't have to know where I'm going until 20K. *weeping* Thank you! I get overwhelmed by the number of blogs out there from people who are outline fiends and they don't write a single word until they know the end, and on and on. I'm so the opposite of that, and sometimes I feel like a cheater. Whew! Now I know it's okay to just sit and fill up the page, even if I have to go back. Which I do. I go back again and again. And again.

Maria Zannini said...

Elana: I outline most of the time, but I still go back over, and over, and over again. :o)

I know which passages give me trouble and I try to say them out loud until I come up with the right resonance.

Thanks for stopping by!