Sunday, 30 March 2014

When is it done?

Image Text: The legendary cellist Pablo Casals was asked why he continued to practice at age 90. "Because I think I'm making progress," he replied.

People like to speculate about when one will be "done" with an art project.

Most of these people will happily agree that art is life, so when are you 'done' living? Breathing? Growing? Aging? Changing? You can be 'far along enough' in a performing art to start being in shows, you can be 'as ready as you'll ever be' for an audition, in sports you can be 'good enough' to start competing. That doesn't mean you're "done." No one asks if a musician's first concert or an athlete's first game is the final product, as good as they'll ever get, if they're "done," now. So why ask that of writers?

You're not even done when you published. Two of my favourite authors edited their books no less than thirty years  after they were first published. Sharon Kay Penman's breakout novel, "The Sunne in Splendour," was a NYT bestseller in 1983. Realising she had written a character in a velvet dress before velvet was invented (after reading a new study on medieval textiles) she edited the book for it's new print run in 2013.

My other favourite author, the inimitable Robert Heinlein, had the uncut version of "Stranger In A Strange Land" released thirty years after the original was not only a bestseller, but changed society. It's one of the most banned books in the world, it's on the Library of Congress' "Books That Shaped America," it made waterbeds ineligible for patent because it had described them so thoroughly first, it entered the word "grok" into our vocabulary, it founded a goddamn actual real world religion, the Church of All Worlds, and generally shook everything up so much it was cited in "We Didn't Start The Fire."

But it could stand to be improved thirty years later, so it was. Because it wasn't finished, even though Heinlein was dead.

So back to the grindstone, artists and writers. It's not done just because it's on it's third draft or been critiqued thoroughly. It's not done because you got an agent. It's not done when you publish. It's not done thirty years after you publish and become a NYT bestseller. It's not even done when you're dead.

Can you improve it? Then do so.

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