Twelve Posts on Writing, Day Seven: Ugly first, then beautiful

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I wanted to write this post close on the heels of the last, as they’re somewhat related.

The other night I was working with PMC clay, making silver pendants to give as gifts. My ideas for the designs felt stilted. My hands fumbled. The clay dried and cracked and grew difficult to work. At one point, The Chairman of the Borg asked how my work was coming along.

“Awful,” I said. “These totally suck.”

He rolled his eyes. “You always say that. ‘Oh, these are ugly, these are horrible, I hate these.’ Then when it’s all done, you step back and say,” — and here he flourished his arms in dramatic circles — “‘Oh look, I made a swaaaaan.”

I laughed. But I also thought, Nah, these really do suck.

Still I went back to work. I finished sculpting the pendants. I fired them. I burnished them to a high sheen. Then I dunked them in a bath of liver of sulfur and waited.

When I pulled them out, they were black and the designs carved into them unrecognizable. They were ugly. Really ugly.

I rinsed them and went to task buffing the black to silver again, leaving the black in the recessed areas of the designs.

When I’d finished I evaluated my work. I hadn’t made a swan, but the pendants had turned out a lot better than I’d anticipated.

I could go into a spiel about caterpillars becoming butterflies. Or iron hammered and shaped into chandeliers. Or winter blossoming into spring.

But I won’t.

I’ll just say this: often in creative work, the thing you’re working on has to get ugly — really ugly — before it turns beautiful. Don’t give up on the piece in its ugly phase. Rather, acknowledge the ugliness as part of its journey. Stay faithful to the piece. See it through to it’s conclusion. It may not always match the original idea you had for it; but odds are it’ll be better than you anticipated.


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