Finished? I Don’t Think So… (Again)

Half a Trent - Self Portrait in oils, manipulated digitally

(Note – This was first publish in January of 2014.  Something reminded me of it so I decided to bring it back)

“OK, I’m finished.”

The painting instructor came over to look at my work.  He studied it intently, his brow furrowing.  After a few minutes he asked, “You’re done?  Is this a study?  I think this looks pretty good so you should continue working with it.”  He left to check someone else’s work.

I looked the painting over.  This was the first painting of my first painting class.  I had taken a few drawing classes and had played around with painting for years, but this was my inaugural painting of my art education.  And it was done, finished.

I had an hour left so I started doing a few corrections.  Maybe if I blended this a little more.  OK, some more detail there.  A highlight here would work.  And maybe some shading.  Oh, and I guess I could touch this up.  How about…?

“OK, start cleaning up.”  I looked up from the painting.  I had just begun!  I laughed and looked back to it.  90% of the “work” had been completed when I had first called it finished, but the difference that 10% made!  It was a different piece entirely.  The shapes, colors and shading where all pretty much the same, but….

I quickly learned that what I had considered complete in the past in reality was just the start.  Sometimes the “finished” work was a study I would use as reference to create the final.  Other times it was the base that I would use to create the real painting.  My paintings quickly improved.

A few years later I was studying classical and “contemporary concert music” composition.  I quickly rediscovered the “I’m done” effect.  When I sit back and say to myself that the work has been completed I need to think of it as just the beginning.  A few drafts in and I could shine things up to a much higher level.  I left most of my works as studies or partially unpolished, but I did it knowingly.  When I took the time the extra effort was always well worth it.  Sometimes the polishing would take 3 times as much time as the “finished product” , changing less than 5% of the notes, yet the effort would move the composition from a nice amateur study to a piece I could be very proud of.

Every author knows that a first draft is just that: a draft.  Usually the second draft is still pretty rough around the edges.  There are people who do six or seven drafts before they call it complete.  We all know this, and yet it is often hard to put into practice.

It can take months or years to write 75,000 or 85,000 words.  It can take days to read through these words.  After all of the time spent it is hard to say, “OK, back to the beginning.”  It is difficult, but it’s a must.  We have to do it.

The second draft of my current book was a complete rewrite.  I went from under 60,000 words to over 75,000.  There was a much smaller change between the second and third draft, yet I deleted several thousand words and added more to push the total up to 77,000 words.  I’ve had 2 minor revisions since then.  Overall I have spent more time on the revisions than on the first draft.  I know there are still mistakes and rough spots to smooth out.   But it is a totally different book.  I just read through it and found I was so involved in reading I couldn’t edit.  That’s what I’m aiming for….

So, how much time do you spend revising and editing?  Do you find your ending point is really just the beginning?

Oh well, enough resting on my laurels.  Time to get up and really polish it up some more and create another good draft.

—–

Self Portrait in oils by Trent P McDonald & partially deconstructed on the computer…..

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18 thoughts on “Finished? I Don’t Think So… (Again)

  1. Pingback: If We Were Having Coffee – 8/1/2015 | Trent's World (the Blog)

  2. Solveig

    This made me think of editing CVs. We say to ourselves “great I am finally done” but when it is to be send off to someone a few days or weeks later we still spend hours changing this or that. And are all, “oh no what did I do the other day? I didn’t really send that?!” And then it starts all over again.

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  3. lifeconfusions

    I could totally imagine you sitting on a stool and painting that picture with that music playing in the background, I imagined the whole scene just like in movies ! :P

    And I for one, am not good at drafting. I’ve rarely drafted posts and corrected them a lot. Sure few tweaks here and there but not a lot of effort goes into it..I guess creative process works differently for everybody :)

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      It was exactly like that, just like the movies! Did you cover each side of the painting to get a dramatic look at finished vs. unfinished?

      On the blog I usually write something and post it immediately. I’m sure most people can tell ;) As I said to Corina, I post a short story every week and usually come up with the idea an hour or two before I post it. If I ever wanted to publish them, though, I’d go through and revise them – they are good enough for the blog, but wouldn’t stand up to scrutiny.

      As far as creative process, I like to zip through things and let it be, call it done. It’s just after taking the time to revise do I see a difference, it just took me half of my lifetime (or more) to discover this trick!

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      1. lifeconfusions

        Oh I bet, I can tell from the amount of effort you are putting in your book. I guess it’s worth it after all. I should try and learn that trick too!

        Listening to that music and looking at your painting made me think ,you should probably try you hand on some video making, That’s be so apt if you ever find your interest in it!

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        1. trentpmcd Post author

          I’ve started to make videos for my music, but they are very simple. I have a videos page off of the music menu up top. It’s a bit out of date, so I’ll add more. A few have my drawings, but just a drawing. Some have photos – the Paris one is the best – it is a slide show. But like a cartoon or animation – I wish I had time!

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          1. lifeconfusions

            Oh I just looked at the page. won’t be able to see the videos since they are you tube and I can’t watch the videos unless I have the link to them and use proxy to watch them :(

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            1. trentpmcd Post author

              If I put links in, would you be able to see them? I was planning on going back and putting in links, and I still might later today or tomorrow.

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                1. trentpmcd Post author

                  No trouble at all, and not just for you. Of course, if it was just for you it would not be times wasted :D but if you can’t see YouTube directly on my site others might not be able to either. When I put a video in a post I always put a link, just didn’t think of it for the Video Page.

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  4. Corina

    My problem is the opposite. I have short stories that were written fifteen years ago and every time I reread them I find something that could be changed to make it better. It seems I never get to the”finished” point.

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    1. trentpmcd Post author

      As you see, I write and post a short story every week so I don’t have that problem! In fact, most of them could use a lot more editing. Typically I come up with the story idea about an hour before I post it….

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        1. trentpmcd Post author

          It is a great luxury of the blogging world. I do have to make an attempt at good grammar and spelling or no one will take me seriously, but nobody expects everything to be super refined. I’ve thought of taking some of the stories I’ve posted with others I’ve written and self-publish a book of short stories. If I do that I’ll have to go back through and thoroughly edit everything.

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