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 the  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 when  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

Links you might be interested in:

 

Advertisements

Frustrated Perfectionist

For many years I’ve thought of myself as a perfectionist. A frustrated one.

But how can a person be a perfectionist without being frustrated? “Frustrated” almost seems to be redundant when used with “perfectionist.”

I’m reminded of that that every time I write a new song, make a new home recording, or write a new novel. God has given me the necessary talents to do those three things, and He’s helped me to grow in my ability to use those skills effectively.

Each of those activities requires constant practice, and I must not only accept the fact that improvement comes slowly, but that I will never be as good at any of those things as I would like to be.

What would it feel like to be the BEST–at anything? If I could just complete one project that didn’t leave me saying, “That’s the best I can do for now. I could keep working at it, but the additional changes and improvements would be minimal. Not worth the effort. Why should I settle for less than perfect, though? Don’t I don’t know how to do it better? How does it honor God to call it complete now?”

Whenever I read one of my old novels–published or unpublished–the imperfections that didn’t matter then wave a red flag in my face. As if saying, “How did you dare to think you were done with that?” When I listen to my home recordings of original songs, I almost invariably regret not having tried one last time to improve one part, usually the vocal.

Interestingly (to me, anyhow), I sometimes make minor changes to one of my songs years after I wrote it. Maybe I realize I changed the chord I used at a particular place. Other times I lower a note here or there because I can no longer hit the original note(s) (assuming I ever could).

And–this is a relatively new development–I’ve actually gone back and added refrains or bridges to several of my older songs.

Why did I do those things? Was it because my desire to be perfect–or to come closer to being perfect–took over?

I hope not. I hope it’s because my skills in a particular area have grown and I see those as places to apply them.

Will I ever outgrow being a frustrated perfectionist? Will I ever be fully satisfied with a project I call completed because I simply can’t do any better, no matter how much I want to?

I doubt it. But as long as God keeps helping me to sharpen my talents,  I can look forward to each new project and thank Him that it was better than the previous one. Maybe not in every way, but still somehow better.

What about you? Do you find it easy to let go of something you’ve done–maybe even a task at work–and put it behind you? Or do you keep looking for ways to improve it when quite possibly you don’t have the skills or the know-how to do better? How about leaving a comment?

NOTE: Various people have complained about not being able to find or leave comments. Go all the way to the bottom of this post, beneath my “Best regards, Roger.” On the very bottom line of that last section just above the previous post you’ll see “Leave a Comment” if yours will be the first or “X Comments,” where  X denotes the number of existing comments.

~*~

Links you might be interested in:

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

Best regards,
Roger

On Writing Songs

I’m not just a novelist.  I’m also a song writer.

In the fifty-four years I’ve been playing guitar, I’ve composed close to two hundred songs,  a rock opera, and three or four musical dramas. While none of my songs have enjoyed wide-spread popularity–most of you aren’t familiar with any of them–I’ve been able to use them in prisons, migrant camps, and even occasionally in churches. Plus on mission trips to England, Wales, Romania, and Australia.

But writing a song is so much different from writing a novel that I decided to share my thoughts on the subject. I’m sure every song writer has his or her own methodology, but I doubt that many song writers can see–uh, hear–exactly what the finished work will be like until they actually get there.

That’s true for me.

I used to write as many as six or seven songs a year, but–since becoming a novelist–the number has dropped to one song every year or two. Not for lack of interest. Or even lack of time.

I believe God has very specific expectations  regarding the use of my talents. So it’s no wonder that I can’t simply wake up one day and say, “I want to write a song today.” Instead, I pray that God will lead me to an idea I can’t ignore. And then I wait. Sometimes many months.

I occasionally come up with a song idea that seems potentially worthwhile, but unless that idea comes to me in the form of a definite first line, I’m not even going to jot it down anywhere, much less try to do something with it.

But if I have a first line, I’m apt to feel that song is something God intends for me to write. I have two directions to go in at that point. I can try to complete the lyrics for the first stanza or I can just start singing that line to myself to see what kind of tune comes to mind. That normally works best once I have at least the rough version of the first stanza, however.

Sometimes I come up with what seems like a fairly catchy tune without much effort. Unlike years long past when I had to struggle to write the melody, note by note by note. I’m not apt to write it down yet, though. I’ve found that if that’s the tune God wants me to use, it’s going to come back to me again the next time I need it. I don’t recall ever having “lost” a tune that way.

But once I have the basic melody I start refining the first stanza lyrics and trying to determine where to go from there.

Many of my songs are based on Scripture, however, and that creates a completely different challenge: phrasing the Scripture my own way without doing the Bible an injustice. I’ll never forget sitting on the living room carpet surrounded with three or four different translations of the Bible and taking a word or phrase from one and something else from another. That was for “Let the Whole Earth Ring,” my rendition of Psalm 100.

Sooner or later I enter what I have of the new song thus far into Personal Composer software, which allows me to print professional looking lead sheets (words, melody, and chords). Then I start singing what I have over and over again, often making the tiniest changes to the lyrics. (See the link at the bottom of this page about the free lead sheets available on my website.)

Writing a whole song is apt to take anywhere from two to four weeks, and there’s no telling how many versions I print from Personal Composer in the process.

But alas! writing the song is actually the easy part. Then I have to LEARN it! That requires me to forget each of the discarded bits and pieces that are

Are you creative with words or music? Or in some other way? I know at least one of you is quite creative as a cook. How about leaving a comment and sharing a bit about your special talent?

~*~

Links you might be interested in:

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

Best regards,
Roger

This Older Song Writer’s Ultimate Goal

Hopefully, friends reading the title of this blog will pipe up and say, “You’re not old. At sixty-nine, you have many good years left.” I hope they’re right.

But my outlook on music has changed a lot since I started learning to play guitar during the “folk fad” of the 1960s. After moving away from Norfolk, Virginia, where I belonged to a trio, and becoming a soloist, I continued to take music seriously. Even more seriously than before.

I recall telling someone that I wanted to transfer from my junior college to West Virginia University because traditional folk expert Dr. Patrick Gainer–how many people’s names can you still recall fifty years later?–taught there. But I wanted to major in music.

I didn’t. Go to WVU or major in music. Instead, I majored in English at Frostburg State.

I’d written my first song as a theme song for the trio in Norfolk and I wrote a few more songs in the ensuing years. Folk was on its way out–or at least it was being replaced by “folk rock,” something I wasn’t interested in trying. So what was I to write and perform?

As a Christian, that question wasn’t hard to answer. I would write Christian songs and use them whenever and wherever I could. Over the years I’ve had opportunities to sing in prisons, nursing homes, migrant camps, and even churches. My own church and other churches as well.

I also wrote half a dozen or so musical dramas, four of which were performed one or more times.

Throughout the first twenty or thirty years of my song writing, I had several goals. I was realistic enough to know I would never become a popular, well-known Christian singer myself, but I very badly wanted some of my songs to get published and–who knows?–maybe some popular, well-known Christian singer would use one or more of them.

Do you remember the first Christian youth musical Good News? It was written and compiled by Bob Oldenburg and began an explosion of other youth musicals. I met Bob at the conference center where I was working one summer and actually got to do a couple of songs on closed circuit TV for the youth one week. Bob asked me to send him a copy of that music. He was getting ready to work on his second musical and thought he might be able to use one of my songs.

Wow!

Unfortunately he wasn’t able to. That was just one of many disappointments in trying to get my songs into the hands of someone who saw their value and would make good use of them.

Years later, I chanced to correspond with someone who had a good publishing friend in Nashville. He had me send a CD–okay, I admit it, it was a cassette tape back then–and he forwarded it to his friend. Nothing came of it. Not even useful feedback. Or any kind of feedback at all.

I kept writing and singing wherever I could. I recorded many of my songs at home and gave cassette tapes to friends I thought were non-Christians. The funny things is I had a Jewish friend in Australia who shared those tapes with her American boss. No telling who ended up listening to some of my music.

In 1991 I went on my first mission trip, and I’ve been on numerous other trips since then–to Australia, England, Wales, Romania, and Nicaragua. And I’ve been able to use my music there.

Now I’m pretty much limited to two musical outlets: Singing in our church’s nursing home ministry. I have to give those old folks credit. They love my songs! The other is the youngest children’s choir at church. Their director periodically teaches them one of my songs and I play guitar for them to sing with in church.

I also post many of my recordings on my website, RogerBruner.com.

But what is my ultimate goal? Other than pleasing God, Who I believe is the biggest fan of my songs.

Don’t laugh. Not where I can hear you, anyhow. I would love to have one song–I’m not greedy; one will do–published in the Baptist hymnbook. Or some other hymnbook or collection of songs that are going to be around for a while.

Like many other songs in collections like those, it might not get noticed by a large number of people, but at least it would be “out there” where God could lead the people He wants to use my song to find it.

That way it will become part of the legacy I leave behind.

What about you? Have you pursued a goal that’s slipped further and further away? Have you altered your goal and changed the way you’ve gone about pursuing it? How about sharing in a comment?

~*~

Links you might be interested in:

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

Best regards,
Roger