There is no “Finishing”

Last night I went to bed thinking that I was done. I had completed the 80 pages that I had set out to write to include with my application, and felt glad that I had accomplished it by the end of November as planned. Today I sat down to re-read my “masterpiece,” though and proceeded to pick apart my opening chapter.

I couldn’t help myself. I saw areas that needed improvement. Things that were unclear, or inconsistent, that needed changing. The first time I’m writing something my primary objective is to get the thoughts out on the paper. If something still needs work I’ll come back to it later and edit it until it’s finished.

The thing is, there really is no “finishing.” Not for most writers, anyway. A girl in my writing group constantly reminds me how “There is no ‘finishing,’ only ‘deadlines.’” And she’s right. If I let myself, I will edit this piece in pursuit of perfection forever.

Some of it needs work. A quick edit I did earlier in the month involved me quickly going through and removing all of my stupid cursing. It’s a bad habit I have when writing a first draft. My strategy is just to KEEP WRITING AT ALL COSTS and so sometimes when I’m trying to think of what to write next I buy myself a split-second of time by slipping in an extra, unnecessary curse word. Although they were all removed in my first “quickedit” when I actually started reading the story there was a lot that I wanted to change.

I find the writing process interesting because now that I’m 80 pages into the story, the character I was first writing about was an unspecific, barely described shape of a man that was thrust into an unusual situation. As my story developed, the character became more fine-tuned and understood. I didn’t realize exactly who I was writing about until later, so the first chapter focused more on the things around him than the main character.

That was okay at the time, because it allowed me to get the story idea out — but today I essentially re-wrote the first chapter.

I didn’t expect to have to do this, because when I was writing it the first time I thought it was fine. But coming back to it after enough time where I almost don’t even recognize my own writing, where I can view it with eyes that know where the story is truly headed, gives me the benefit of editing with certainty — I know that I’m really improving this.

Improving writing might mean taking things out. Unnecessary words bother me. Improving writing might mean adding things in. Clarity is important. Improving writing might mean realizing something you wrote in Chapter 1 is inconsistent with a detail you wrote in Chapter 15, and correcting things appropriately so they make up a coherent storyline.

Meeting a page goal was one goal. The next goal is to make it better than it is right now. It’s a competitive school, and not a lot of applicants get in. I’m viewing this piece as something that could be a ticket to a new life among fellow writers. I imagine that I won’t get in, given the odds. But I want to give it my best, you know?

I need to move forward. I spent over four hours today obsessing over individual sentences and individual words in a single chapter. I’m forgiving myself for investing that much in such a small section of the piece because it’s the hook. Maybe it’ll be the only thing the decision maker reads. But I can’t spend forever on it. There’s a deadline involved.

I told myself that I’d forfeit writing in my blog for the month of November in favor of focusing on my manuscript. It’s important to me. November’s over and there’s still work to be done, but I’m confident I’m practically done. Last night I imagined that I was, and today I learned that I wasn’t.

It’s cool. I’m almost finished. I think so, anyway.

Yet part of me thinks that I’ll refuse to send this away to be judged until the last possible moment. It’s not that I’m obsessed with being perfect, or that I’m a terrible procrastinator — it’s just that this is something that’s important to me, that also happens to be something I enjoy. There’s no “finishing” the things that you enjoy. You just keep doing them.

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2 Responses to “There is no “Finishing””

#1 KenWert@MeanttobeHappy on 14, Dec, 2011 at 8:05 am

So true! If you love what you do, you will always do it, you will never be done in any permanent sense of the word. As for editing, I know what you mean. Even with my posts at Meant to be Happy, I finally just have to hit “publish” and be done even though I could find a hundred other ways to improve it if I kept at it.

Thanks for the post!

#2 Holly on 05, Jan, 2012 at 9:35 am

Aloha, Shaun,

I can truly resonate with your story about wanted to edit forever something that you have written. Yes, there is the perfectionistic critic inside every artist that demands the best, and that is why we create. Remember to bless yourself for having the magical ability to create something from just a thought too!

As far as the editing issue, perhaps think about your piece of writing as a piece of furniture that a master carpenter would make. You start with the idea, carve out components from raw blocks of wood, assemble them and then start the process of finishing–sanding, varnishing, fine-sanding the varnish and then another coat. Yes, you could continue to put on more and more layers of varnish, yet would that make the piece any more perfect?

In recovery from addictions, one piece of wisdom I picked up was the saying, “Good enough IS good enough.” Perhaps choose to celebrate your creation for the uniquely beautiful and beautifully unique expression that it is–of YOU.

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