Jackson Pollock once said, in answer to an interviewer’s question about how he composed his paintings out of “accidental” splatterings, “I don’t use the accident. I deny the accident.”
The sheer bravado of this is thrilling, and as a writer I find it a useful way to think about my work-in-progress. When I’m putting words on the page it’s easy to second guess, to question the often unconscious choices I make as I go: the trajectories of characters’ lives, shifts in direction and focus, minor characters who gain traction as the story moves forward. The editor in my head starts whispering: You’re going in the wrong direction. Why are you spending so much time on that character? You need to focus, get back to the story you originally envisioned, stick to the plan.
Over time I’ve learned to trust my impulses. Whatever else they may be, these unanticipated detours are fresh and surprising; they keep me interested, and often end up adding depth to the work. Not always, of course – sometimes an accident is just an accident. But believing that these splatterings on my own canvas are there for a reason, as part of a larger process of creation, gives me the audacity to experiment.