Editing, Novel, Revision, Writing

Never finished, only abandoned

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?

8 thoughts on “Never finished, only abandoned”

  1. I’m not up to par right now, but hate not to interact with you all, so forgive me for not replying individually to each of you. I do appreciate you all taking the time to comment.

    Okay, so it seems a concensus that nothing I write will ever be finished; there will just come a point where I push it out of the nest. If only my next book idea would come along to help, but I guess it can’t be rushed. Patience, hurry up. 🙂


  2. I prefer to say: «Let it be. »

    Creation is often compared to a child. And it is in many way. But a novel is to my point of view more like a fresque of many scenes, many pictures, many characters.

    So, when I fell this novel is ready to fly… I just let it go and I began to think about the next one.

    Thanks for this post.


  3. I feel like I have so much to learn. My blog is primarily poetry and I find it so challenging to go back and edit. I become attached to that first raw outpouring. Sometimes it seems like the more I polish the duller it becomes. I think that has more to do with it being poetry. Maybe the next step is to dust off some old short stories?


  4. Ooops. I had a reply here and accidently erased it.

    I know I said your poetry was fantastic. And I said something like: since poetry seems to come directly from the heart I think it would be easy to take the life out of it by editing.


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