Friday, November 30, 2012

The Art of Finishing

The Art of Finishing

Every Christmas, my family sits down to do a puzzle. And without fail, I wind up spending no more than five minutes helping, placing together a measly couple of pieces only to wander off to read or watch television. 

My problem: I cannot see the finish in the mess of puzzle pieces. 

I stare at the oddly shaped cardboard pieces with their multitude of colors, and I'm trapped. I get easily discouraged when I pick two seemingly similar bumps and lumps only to discover that they don't go together. That's it. I give up. I leave the puzzle work to the rest of the family. 

They spend the tedious amount of hours trying and trying again to make the puzzle take shape. I instead do something I know can be finished. Like read a book, watch a show, or bake cookies.  These are all things that have a timer. I know what it will take to finish them. Sometimes I might wander back to the table to add a piece to the puzzle. Usually I am unsuccessful and wind up jamming the palms of my hands into my eye sockets and proclaiming something to the likes of, "I just can't look at this mess anymore!" I give up and leave. Perhaps make more cookies but more likely watch more tv. 

Eventually, this is what becomes of the mess on the table. 

It is a beautiful work of art. 1,000 multicolored pieces with odd lumps and bumps that ultimately all fit together to form one cohesive picture. But because all I could see were the pieces that didn't fit together, I had no part in putting together the pieces that did. 

In life, in art, in writing, in is all too easy to get caught up in the small minute details. To only see the two pieces that don't go together and decide that it is easier to give up than to keep going, to keep searching for the right piece. And what happens when we hone in to the minute is that we lose focus of the big picture.  

All too often, when I am writing, I hit a scene that just doesn't work. Suddenly, it is like a lump and a bump that are not the same shape. And I walk away. I leave it behind. Or simply delete it altogether. A novel is like a puzzle, a 50,000+ word puzzle that needs crafting so that all of the words fit together perfectly to form one brilliant story. If you pick the wrong two words or two scenes, the story might not fall into place. It needs fixing and reformatting. And this is daunting and lots of times painful. For a perfectionist, it is near impossible. But, should it be given time and patience, the end result is a work of art. 

However, if you are like me, the end result is just a figment of my imagination because I am spending too much time pressing the palms of my hands against my eyes and saying that I just can't look at this anymore. 

I get lost in the jumble. I want it all to fit together on the first try. Because if I'm going to become someone undeniably famous and revered, I should be just that talented that it all fits together with one effort.  

Reality. It should not be that easy. Nobody is going to pat you on the back for putting the square in the square hole. Unless of course you are a baby. To which we squeal when they finally put the right piece in the right spot even though it took them fifteen tries. We squeal because they did it. They kept trying even when the pieces didn't fit. They kept trying even when it was hard. 

A novel like a puzzle doesn't just consist of the pieces in the middle. It has a frame. A point of origin and a point to call the end. I'm beginning to learn that if I just take the time to put those pieces in place, the ones with the defined edges, then the rest will follow. Or the rest might simply be given the chance to surprise me. 

Art is not a right or wrong. And honestly, comparing it to a mass produced puzzle might not really be the most accurate comparison. But the puzzle is my metaphor and I'm sticking with it. I can't go back now and rewrite the post. Now, I have to finish it. 

Van Gogh painted Starry Night in 1889 from a sanitorium after he went a little cracra. He painted the view outside his window at night from memory during the day. Was he always satisfied with his painting? Probably not. Yet, he finished it. Creating what is one of the most well known paintings of all time. 

"... it does me good to do what’s difficult. That doesn’t stop me having a tremendous need for, shall I say the word — for religion — so I go outside at night to paint the stars.'" (Vincent Van Gogh)

Sometimes all it takes is the art of finishing so that we can step back and see what we have created. This is my task. To stop walking away when the pieces don't fit. To finish. To hold in my hands a product that I might not be able to call perfect, but at least I can call it finished. 

Wish me luck upon the starry night. 

1 comment:

  1. Hey cuz, good to see you back on the blog. I love this post, because as a writer I run into all of the same problems. In fact it was this very quandry which necessited the creation of one of my cardinal rules of writing (which I've already shared with you), "Begin with the end in mind." Most people use a picture of the finished product as a guide for puzzle-making, the same should be true of writing. If our novel is a portrait, we need to know what it's going to look like before we can put all of the pieces together to turn into that.

    I did one other thing when I started writing my novel that has helped me with that frustrating moment when a scene isn't working or such. I committed, before I even wrote the first word of the novel, to rewriting the entire thing once I finished. I allowed myself to use the first draft to be a framework. I could tell myself, "if this scene isn't working, if I feel like there should be more or I'm missing something, I'll just put down what I have now and fix it when I come back to do my rewrite." And since I always have the end in mind, I know where I'm going after that scene and I don't have to worry about it being right the first time to finish.

    Good work, though, keep it up. If for no other reason than the fact that I expect to be able to read the fruits of your labor.


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