The Right Words in the Right Order

Published on 14 January 2022 at 08:00

Recently, I visited one of the art teachers in my building to ask her some questions about the set up for my Creative Writing Class (She makes amazing art! Check her out here!) While I was there, I was enamored by the creative art making that was happening all around the room. She was adding handles to beautiful mugs that she had made, there were learners making what looked like clay sculptures, and there was one learner at the wheel. 

I don't know if you have ever seen someone working at the wheel, but really my only experience watching someone at the wheel was watching an expert. This person, who usually looks like the artist that I have created in my mind, sits behind the wheel. This person always has paint smears on their face and hands that tell a story. So, this artist sits behind the wheel and throws down this lump of clay. It starts almost violently; the thwack that resounds when the clay hits the flat surface is shocking. We don't see that side of art very often, the thwacking part, but if there is anything that I have learned, it's that the thwacking part- whether it is a piece of clay on a wheel or my own head on the keyboard (jk)- is one of the most important parts, I think. 

Anyways, I digress. The artist then seems to magically transform this lump of clay into a bowl or a cup or a vase. It's like they barely touch this clay and poof it's smooth and beautiful and crisp. I usually stand their, slack-jawed, and wonder at the brilliance of what they have just accomplished. But, what we don't see is the hours and hours and hours of practice that these artists put in before they reach this epoch of artistry. 

While visiting my teacher-friend, I was able to see this messy process from a beginner's perspective. I feel like it is an important side note to let you know about the artist who was working at the wheel. He is such a fun learner to teach, and his poetry in my creative writing class and in my AP World History class has always been inspiring. This process, however, didn't really seem that inspiring. It seemed frustrating. 

Every move he made seemed to be wrong. He began with the resounding slap of clay on wheel, put his hands on the clay, pushed the pedal to begin the wheel spinning, crumbled his already lumpy piece of clay. I can imagine that he was frustrated, but it is also just as likely that he saw the value in the process, the beauty in the practice. He would then pick up the clay and thump it onto the wheel to begin again. 

I don't know how many times he started over in the few minutes that I was in the room, but there was something so beautiful in the way that he tried over and over and over again. It felt very relevant to me as I keep trying over and over and over again with my current WIP (work in progress) to capture something real. 

It can be overwhelming thinking about all the words that I still haven't written. My mind often reminds me that it would be easier to just throw in the towel and be a really good reader. But I've never been one to take the easy road, so I try something else, something more resilient. Like the young artist who keeps throwing the clay, I keep throwing the words at the page, hoping against hope that at some point the words will be right, or at least right enough. Like Neil Gaiman so eloquently put it, "you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until it's done. It's that easy, and that hard." No kidding, Neil. No kidding. 

Each word, each phrase, each sentence is a testament to my progress. So, I'll celebrate the progress and keep trying to get the right words in the right order. 

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Russell Gayer
6 months ago

Nice post, Casey. We had a pottery wheel in art class way back in 1972. I enjoyed it, but found it frustrating at times too. I loved your analogy of comparing it to writing, which can also be very frustrating at time, but it's worth all the edits and rewrites.