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.”

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