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

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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?

~*~

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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