Leonardo da Vinci said, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” Four hundred years later, Paul Valery said, “A poem is never finished, only abandoned.” Surely some famous author has said the same thing about a novel.
After I finished writing my first novel, real life intervened and I never polished or tried to find representation for it. My second novel is finished and in the process of a final polish, though I fully expect to do more editing at the requests of my future agent and editor. A few days ago, I reread my first chapter and made several changes—nothing major—a more exact word substituted for a vague one, phrases rearranged for clarity, a word here and there deleted for better flow. I’m sure I can do the same for the other chapters. I accept that this book will never be perfect.
I think that in a year or five or twenty, I would look at it and find a dozen words, phrasings, something I would want to change. If it were already published, that would frustrate me to no end. In Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird” she tells of being asked to read an excerpt of one of her novels at a seminar and, to her dismay, finding a “mistake.” I imagine she’s never forgotten that. Once this novel is accepted for publication, I hope to never read it again, at least not voluntarily
Right now, I have a different problem. I’m afraid I won’t know when to abandon it. I don’t want to do it before it’s “done”, but I don’t want to edit the life out of it either.
How do you know when to abandon your work?