The End

By Sue Trollip

How do you know when it’s time to say hasta la vista to your baby?

Bob Dylan perhaps had the best comeback because the answer, my friends, is too variable to be anything but ‘blowing in the wind’.

I recently read an article by Jerry Weiss in The Artist’s Magazine  called ‘In praise of the unfinished’, in it he wrote:

‘At its worst, the desire to finish a work can produce a kind of embalming, a waxed sheen of good intentions that smothers whatever life an idea once possessed.’

And although Weiss was talking about paintings I thought it applied well to manuscripts too. Editing is a tricky job. Writers may think it easier to look at a canvas and say, it’s finished when it’s full of paint, but painters are also in the habit of moving people, and trees and buildings to get a better composition.

In my brain the voice that cries out for one more edit is loud. Another voice, the one that ponders about over-editing, is quieter but no less worrying, because that waxed sheen is not what any author artist wants. It is the roughness that brings texture to the text and by texture I mean reader participation.

Weiss mentions Whistler’s paintings saying that their worth is ‘owed as much to omission as it is to elaboration.’

He had me at omission. I do not like authors to paint each flower for me, I much prefer to picture the garden for myself. Damon Galgut does this best with too many examples to mention and then there’s Lionel Shriver. One of her sentences that I can’t seem to forget because it paints a magnificent picture in my head, goes:

‘the buses bursting with cackling passengers three times over capacity and aflap with chickens.

These are authors who know exactly when to finish.

The painter William Merrit Chase  believes that ‘it takes two to paint. One to paint and the other to stand by with an axe to kill him before he spoils it.’ That’s a tad grim William, but oh so true. Weiss claims that, ‘When done properly, an “unfinished” work states the essentials and leaves the rest to the imagination.’

Now as soon as I work out whether the essentials are in place I’ll have my answer!

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6 thoughts on “The End

  1. jacky says:

    So true Sue. I love the Shriver comment – perhaps the Impressionists were successful because they painted what they saw, were bold enough to kick convention out of the window, and present colour and atmosphere as it was. Same goes for editing; although i’ve read a couple of novels recently, published by an old and revered house, that are so full of glaring mistakes, misprints and plain bad writing that it became embarrassing to read to the end! So yes, when to stop and let your original ideas and thoughts take their rightful place? I hope you find those essentials…I think you will, and soon. Good luck.

    • Sue says:

      Thanks Jacky. The Impressionists certainly were brave and yes, I think bold and simple is definitely the way to go. I will try to remember the bit about kicking convention out of the window too, convention is stifling!

  2. Susan says:

    A very difficult question, Sue. Paul Gardner said: “A painting is never finished – it simply stops in interesting places” and I think that novelists should take this view as well. I would have gone on editing my first novel again and again, flogging it to death, but when someone from Penguin pointed out that my opening chapters from 11 months before were stronger than my latest re-write, I knew it was time to stop. Sometimes we need a little more faith in what we’ve written, and the best thing is to take a break from it, let time pass while you start on a new project, and then come back to it with new eyes. You will be pleasantly surprised by your own work, and the bits that jar will jump out like a race marshal with a red flag and you will know how to fix them. Another hint – keep previous drafts so you have something to go back to when you’ve overdone things…!

    • jacky says:

      Susan this is so true. When one starts a novel (‘one’ not being me), there’s all the initial enthusiasm and energy which is translated into words. This can so easily be ruined by uber self criticism; the energy is lost and, sometimes, the whole script just pancakes from too much fiddling. Your advice is excellent; put it aside and give yourself breathing space.

      • Sue says:

        Yes, that’s it exactly, the enthusiasm wanes and all goes to pot (or pancake), and it’s about whipping up enthusiasm that shows in the writing instead of rewriting the lackluster pieces.

    • Sue says:

      Ah, I think you’re right Susan, it’s the checked flag we want not the red one.

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