When Is “Finished” Actually Finished?


Every project has an end in sight: completion. Whether I’m writing a novel or a song or making a walking stick from a piece of dead tree branch, I always have the same goal: making it the best it can be.

But when is “finished” actually finished?

When I start carving the bark off a dead piece of branch, I know I’ll also need to file the nodes as far down as I can. I can only saw them off so close to the branch itself, and sanding them down is tedious and sand paper-consuming.

Then I do some serious sanding with course sandpaper, making sure to round off the edges of the top of theĀ  stick to make it safer. And sometimes having to file or sand the bottom end enough to fit a rubber furniture tip on.

Then comes sanding with fine sand paper. That doesn’t take much work, but if some of the bark proves uncarveable, the sanding can result in loosening some obnoxious “threads” of bark that take forever to get rid of.

A coating of linseed oil brings out the grain, and then two or three coats of polyurethane give it a lustrous shine. Even then, however, just when I think I’ve finished, I’m apt to find places I didn’t sand smoothly enough or “threads” that feel unpleasant to the touch.

So that means more sanding of something that had seemed complete. And redoing the linseed oil and polyurethane.

When is enough enough? Whenever a finished walking stick is finished, I guess. When there’s nothing left for me to do to make it better.

That’s true of my novel writing as well. Beginning novelists think they’ve done something really special when they complete their first draft, and they have. But if they think their books are anywhere close to finished from a publisher’s or reader’s point of view, they’re sadly naive.

It normally takes me twelve to twenty complete times of editing and revising that rough draft before I’m tempted to call it complete. The rule-of-thumb seems to be “don’t do it any more if the improvements are so minor no one can tell the difference.”

Writing novels that will be read by other authors as well as by regular readers is tough. Other authors are pickier readers. I certainly am.

Now that I’ve gotten into indy book publishing , I’ve found there’s even more to the problem of when finished is finished. I had to submit one recent manuscript to CreateSpace three or four times just to get the cover photo to look right. On other books, a reading of the proof copy may reveal a simple mistake or two that I can’t permit to be included in the final edition.

Even in the print version of my latest book, Wherefore Art Thou Ramon, after paying in succession for three proof copies, I discovered one blank page in my intended final copy. As tempted as I was to correct the file and resubmit it, that change might adversely affect some other page. And changing that one might affect another one.

So I bit the bullet. Enough would have to be enough.

Song writing has its own set of problems, because it’s hard to be sure I’ve correctly notated the music in Personal Composer software. But songs also have a different kind of completion problem. I wrote a song in 2010–“God’s Words.”

I made some changes to the words a few years ago, and right now I’m in what I hope are the finishing stages of adding a refrain to the song. It was complete before, but soon it will be even more complete.

I’ve added bridges or refrains to at least four or five completed songs during the past few years. Are they really complete now? Are they really finished?

I sure hope so.

Jesus knew his earthly mission–dying for mankind’s redemption–was complete whenĀ  he uttered, “It is finished” from the cross.

That’s the ultimate kind of completion because it doesn’t require anything more.

Do you have anything to add? Please leave a comment.

I’ll be back again next Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

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