Art and Endings

I love my job. Back when I was an aspiring writer, I swore that if someone would only pay me to write, I would never complain about the work.

But I have to say that proofreading is my least favorite part of the work I love. It’s the last time I see the book before it’s printed, and I’m only supposed to look for typos and grammatical errors. But now that I can’t change anything, I have all sorts of brilliant ideas for new scenes – and it’s too late to put them in.

It’s fun to reacquaint myself with my characters, though. I’ve written a whole ‘nuther book since I last worked on Tall, Dark and Cowboy, so reading through it is almost like reading a new novel by some other author. If my fingers weren’t so itchy to change things, I’d be enjoying it. 

But eventually, you have to declare a book done and move on. My first painting teacher, Wyoming artist Russ Hamilton, taught me that the hardest part of painting is knowing when to quit and call it done. That’s true of writing, too–you have to resiste the urge to edit the story to death and lose the spontaneity that makes it shine.

Russ was wise in many ways. He was always very encouraging about my writing, even though he’d never read any of it. I think it was his subtle way of telling me that my creative urge should be channeled into something other than painting, though he did manage to turn me into a respectable amateur artist. Here are two of the paintings he helped me with – a lighthouse in Door County, Wisconsin that Ken and I visited on our first vacation together, and Eilean Donan castle in Scotland, which holds a lot of memories for us.

Russ passed away a few years ago. He was a wonderful, warm man who was wise as well as talented and endlessly patient with his students (even the ones who should have stuck to writing). Here is a gallery of some of his Western paintings, and you can check out his Wyoming landscapes as well.

While I don’t have time to paint much anymore, I still use what I learned from Russ and other teachers every day. And in the book that’s coming out in fall of 2012, my heroine is an artist who comes to a Wyoming ranch to teach a painting workshop. I’m sure I’ll use a lot of what I learned from Russ in writing it–and in finding a way to make it complete.