Wednesday, August 15, 2012

When is your book done?

"Art is never finished, only abandoned."  ~da Vinci

I've been thinking a lot about endings lately, probably because I've been tinkering with the YA fantasy trilogy that I conceived of a year ago, and for awhile, I thought I was coming closer to a close.

This is the trilogy that I started in January of 2011.  In March, I added a major character and rewrote the beginning of the first book.  I thought I was done with the draft of book one by June, but then I had an idea and I tweaked until August.  After a few revisions and crit partner reviews, I was sure it was complete by October.  Then, before going on the query quest in December, I polished it up one more time.  Okay, two more times, but who's counting.

Since then, I've kept working on the series, but I thought the first book was as good as I could make it.

I was wrong.

Based on some feedback I received last week, I sat down with the "finished" draft of Book One and started to go through it, and I discovered something that probably won't surprise you, but wasn't quite what I'd expected.  It might have been done in terms of story, but it wasn't the best book I could write.

So I flung myself into revisions, slicing and dicing and expanding and expounding.

Is it done now?  No.  Is it better?  So much. 

What I've Learned

There's some real truth to the statement attributed to Leonardo da Vinci that art isn't really complete.  But I think there's more to it than that.

Art (and by this I mean all creative endeavors, be they tangible, audible, edible, or visible) is an expression of a piece of its creator.  Hopefully, we humans are continuously growing and changing, discovering new facets in ourselves and letting go of that which no longer serves us.  So it's only to be expected that our art will change, too.

I don't think it's so much that art is ever abandoned, but that the artist arrives at a place where the art is as representative of that part of her soul as she can possibly make at that time.  We can't strive for perfection, but we can strive for personal best.

Will my personal best look different in a year or five?  I hope so!  Does that mean that I will allow this series to become my magnum opus, my never ending project?  Not my style.

I do know, however, that I will keep polishing and plucking at this project until it feels as true as I can make it, and then I will give it the chance to enter the world and become something other than my creative baby.

And that is, I think, the scariest thing about art: not that it can be never-ending and all-consuming, but the knowledge that once it's released, it will become many things to many people, but it will never belong to the artist again.  So if you're rushing to finish a project (as I often am), slow down.  Cherish the time that the art is still in yours.  Because someday, it won't be: someday, it will be speaking with its own voice out in the wide world.

What do you think?  Product, process, journey, what's your take on the idea of art being finished?


  1. Well, it's never good enough for the writer but it can definitely be good enough for the reader, and that's when it's finished. The hard part is knowing when that is.

    1. Very true, Karen! I think part of the difficulty is the beautiful diversity of readers: what's good enough for one may be sub-par for another. It is a tightrope, that's for sure.

  2. For the longest time, I used to post my fiction online. I had lost confidence in myself as a writer, and fanfiction helped me get it back (hello, ready-made fanbase!) Then of course I started posting original fiction, and lo and behold, they still loved it! So I sat on my laurels for a bit and began to finally start thinking about publishing again.

    Then I looked back at the stuff I had posted online and felt embarrassed lol

    So after ten years or so, I am finally re-learning how to edit. I have a bare bones manuscript (as well as a very slow-moving WIP with a friend) and am tediously editing each chapter, even adding in new ones. Adding in characters. Deleting characters. Writing scenes that should have been there but weren't. Reconstructing the entire plot.

    Bloody hell, this is HARD!

    And it's just the first round of edits!!

    When will it be finished ... I have no idea, but I'll keep working towards that point!

    1. Bridget,

      That takes a lot of guts to put your work out there like that. But it sounds like you've learned a lot, and although your editing process sounds PAINFUL, it also sounds like it is helping you produce your best work. That's all we can hope for, really!

  3. "The artist arrives at a place where the art is as representative of that part of her soul as she can possibly make at that time." -- beautifully said, Jen!

    I know the feeling of looking over last year's draft, after having learned so much in the mean time, and having to rewrite it entirely just to make the story within better justice. I'm in the process of that rewrite right now, have one more third to go, and as much as I would love to see it finished and do some polishing of the style, I'm not racing to the finish line. I don't want to be as hasty as I have been before, and I also enjoy the process.

    Thank you very much for the reminder that this is indeed part of the writing and ripening process. :)

    1. It's amazing how much our skills change in a short amount of time, isn't it? Glad you aren't rushing: that's something I have to keep re-learning, but it makes it better when I take my time.

      Thanks for commenting and sharing this post, V!

  4. I think of writing as this spiral that takes us farther and farther along the path, we learn new things as we twirl around, leave behind old habits, deepening and strengthening as we go. I love the revision process now.

    1. I love that image (probably because I've always seen life as a spiral!) So glad you love revisions, and glad I am learning to. I've stopped rushing, at least: just remind me of that the next time I speed up. ;)

  5. I agree, a similar thing happened with my MS BLOOD OF ISIS. I thought I was done, got some feedback, and ended up deciding to add more to it (still working on it but it looks likes it's going to be around 15,000 words added). I am only trying to strive for personal best, when I can find little wrong wiht it and when my beta readers can as well, then it will be ready to go. Especially because I know that if I allow myself to I can always find more errors.


    1. Patrice, that's so true: no matter how good it is, we will always find things to pick apart in our work. It sounds like you are going through a good process, though, and I can't wait to hear more!