word craft


Art is never finished

Leonardo da Vinci quote

I had worked on the book for at least a year, work­ing on it every day, some­times for hours, some­times just for min­utes, but always and always. There was the research. The think­ing about it. The writ­ing. The end­less revi­sions, the notes, the talks with my edi­tor that brought on new revi­sions, ongo­ing changes, cuts, expan­sions, the whole gamut of good writ­ing prac­tices. Then there was the copy­edit­ing, and the page proofs, all of which brought on more thought, and more changes. All these were actions which in no way were unusu­al. It was the process by which I wrote every one of my books until it was done. 

And when it was done, I moved on to the next project and began the whole process once again. 

But then came the day when a pack­age arrived.  It was from my edi­tor and con­sist­ed of that book itself, print­ed, bound, and jack­et­ed in its bright new cover. 

How fine! How excit­ing! (It always is.)

Then I opened the book and read the first para­graph. No soon­er did I do that than I real­ized I had left out a sen­tence, a sen­tence not required, not ever writ­ten, but a sen­tence which would have made a great dif­fer­ence to the book. 

But it was too late. The book was in my hands, a pub­lished book. 

How dis­ap­point­ing.

Was this a unique experience? 

Not at all. 

In all my years of writ­ing and pub­lish­ing when­ev­er I have looked at a “fin­ished book” I have always, always, always, found some­thing that could have made the book bet­ter. It is not nec­es­sar­i­ly a sig­nif­i­cant thing — usu­al­ly, it is rather small — but it is some­thing that would have enhanced the text. 

Too late. 

This is not because I rushed things, or has­tened to meet a dead­line, or was slop­py, but because it is the nature of art, any art, nev­er, ever to be tru­ly done. 

Some­times — in my expe­ri­ence — the real­iza­tion comes just after I sub­mit a man­u­script to my edi­tor. “No, no, wait,” I has­ten to inform the edi­tor. “Don’t read that, read this ver­sion.” It dri­ves my edi­tors crazy. 

Writ­ing — as with any art — is always frus­trat­ing. Even when praise is heaped upon the artist — and that does hap­pen — the artist knows it could have been bet­ter. To cre­ate good art is also to be humbled. 

One is haunt­ed: “It could have been better.” 

 Con­sid­er Leonar­do De Vin­ci, sure­ly one of the very best artists. Yet it is to him that is attrib­uted the phrase: “Art is nev­er fin­ished, only abandoned.”

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Recent Posts