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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My Next-to-the-Most Favorite Career

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I’ve had four careers. Although writing novels is by no means an income-producing career, it’s certainly my favorite one. It uses a wonderful combination of creativity and writing skills, two things I thank God daily for blessing me with. And I have no one looking over my shoulder but Him. And I view Him as my Helper, not my critic.

But authoring novels has actually been my retirement career. A fact that seems like an oxymoron–the joining of contradictory words or ideas. Like the idea of retirement involving a career rather than sitting around being unproductive.

So, what was my favorite career prior to retirement?

From high school days, I wanted to become a teacher. Of course, I was naive enough to think secondary school students would all be like me. (I was a mediocre student in high school, but an extremely good one in college.) And to think that teaching wouldn’t cut into my free time very much. (That was something I was very protective of.) And that being an education student in college would actually teach me to teach. (Dare I share that the head of my college’s English Department had NEVER taught in secondary schools?)

I liked the kids–for the greater part. But not the teaching. Not as much as I’d expected to, anyhow. And definitely not the preparation and the follow up.

So, what does an unhappy English teacher do next? He goes to work for the state. As an employment counselor/interviewer for a Federal jobs program.

Much different from teaching–for sure. At least I could leave work behind when I went home each day. And occasionally I could look at a successful client and feel good about having been part of his or her success. But I hate to think about all of those clients who had become experts at playing the system.

That job was anything but creative. At least teaching had used a little of my creativity. But the paperwork required by the state job–we weren’t quite to the point of filling out forms on the computer–was a headache. Especially at the beginning and end of each summer with hundreds of kids enrolled in the summer work program.

My parents were a lot smarter than I’d realized.  They realized that their mid-thirties-ish son wasn’t really happy in his job, even though he was approaching the ten year mark in that role. Something started them wondering whether I might enjoy computer programming. And they offered to pay for me to take programming classes at Chesapeake College, which was just a few miles up the road from where I lived.

Were they ever right about programming! Not only did it make use of my creativity, but my logic. Even before starting my studies, I bought one of those Texas Instrument computers–you remember those? they had 64k of memory–and did quite a bit on my own. I proudly remember the Yahtze game I programmed. And saving the code on my reel-to-reel recorder because the TI didn’t have its own data storage facility.

Just as I’d taken my previous college studies seriously, I really ate up my computer classes at Chesapeake College. Twenty-four credits resulted in two certificates–with a 4.0 GPA. I was all set to make a career change. Or so I thought.

Especially when the college hired me as an adjunct instructor to teach programming at a local Black and Decker plant one semester. Now, that kind of teaching was fun–and it made the down payment on our first second car. But it wasn’t programming.

Hmm. Ever hear that “How do you get a job without experience and how do you get experience without a job” question? It proved to be a reality.

Nonetheless, I ended up a junior programmer at what was then still called the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. I’ll save the story of how I got there for a later post, but that got me started on my most exciting and rewarding pre-retirement career. One that lasted almost eighteen years.

I became an expert programming with All-In-1, the code that DEC’s [Digital Equipment Corp.] All-In-1 office automation software was written with. I wrote major applications that we gladly shared with other companies, including a Conference Room Scheduler that I used vacation time to install (for money!) at a site in Oklahoma. Or was it South Carolina? Or both? Too long ago…

I edited the Office Automation section of a national newsletter and wrote numerous technical articles. I won at least one award for my editing (see pictures above) and another for one of the ideas I presented in an article.

I presented sessions at DECUS [DEC User Society] and was invited to give an all day All-In-1 class at Australia DECUS in Melbourne, Australia–all expenses paid. During those years I could’ve found a job anywhere in the world, but I wanted to stay where I was.

But the world of mainframes and minicomputers eventually gave way to personal computers and my expertise was no longer as valuable as it had been. I made an effort to adjust and thought I was doing fine when I transferred to the web team. But there were problems I didn’t know about and I ended up on a team I never succeeded at doing well with.

I won’t go into detail except to say that when I was downsized after a year on that team, it was more of a relief than a shock. And I soon realized that I was too old and too tired to catch up and stay up with the changes in information technology. They came too quickly and too frequently, and they were too severe.

While working at a Target store to supplement the family income, I had time (for the first time ever) to start writing my first novel. The rest is history. With a lot of help from God.

Have you had multiple careers? What was your favorite? How about sharing a comment?

~*~

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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