QUESTION: When do you as a writer decide that a work is finished?
I am still going on my second pass on the novel. I have jumped around as needed. Second drafts are writing triage. I have to decide what can be saved and what isn’t worth the time to fix.
What I have to beware of is constant polishing. There will come a point where I have to “abandon” my novel. That isn’t to say that I am quitting. It means that I have to declare it “finished” and move on to my many other projects.
When it comes to style, I am a perfectionist. I will parse a phrase over and over until I feel it’s “right,” but then the next day I’ll read it again and think of other ways to say what I want to say.
So when do you call it a day on a piece of work, say “good enough,” and deliver it to the world?
In The Meantime
As an exercise in discipline, I decided to write a poem. I placed some very strict criteria. The rhymes had to be internal and external, meaning that first AND last word of the line must rhyme with the next line.
Also, the poem had to be short, with a strictly linear progression.
Most importantly: NO NEAR RHYMES. I couldn’t rhyme “compress” with “decompress.” I couldn’t rhyme “return” with “yarn.” Both sets of rhyming words in each line had to have a direct rhyme with each word in the next line.
The meter of the poem had to reflect the action of the poem itself. In this case, the portrayal of the hunt of a Serow, which is an Asian antelope.
The meter starts with two beats, escalates to alternates of four and five beats as a depiction of the uneven gait and path of the chase, as well as the rising and falling elevated heart-rate of the animal, then winds down to one beat as the hunt ends.
Since the poem is about hunting, I named it “Diana” after the Roman goddess of the hunt. I did this because I like appearing smart.
But here I am, explaining the joke.
Here it is:
Colt is chasing
Bolts serow, pacing
Darts through the trees
Fraught, panicking wheeze
Heavy horse has sped
Concerned serow rushed
Returned to the brush
Hunter keeps pace
Slotted an arrow
Shot at serow
Blood on the leaves
I confess I feel like I cheated, rhyming “horse” with “courses.” I tried to hide that with “colt” and “bolts,” making it appear as a stylistic choice rather than me covering up a deficiency in the poem. But I’m not going to keep things like this from you.
Had I more talent and patience, I could have negotiated that. I think it’s okay by itself, but just fine for the narrow parameters I set myself.
This kind of exercise forces you to think about the words you use, and when you use them. For me, this is the use of poetry. I create it to help sharpen my prose.
Do you use any exercises to help your prose?