The shed has been filled lately with haiku writing, the finishing touches of a memoir manuscript I hope to shop later this year about walking the dog (Really, that’s what it’s about. More on that at a later date), and new work on a new novel. Sounds like I’m being productive, doesn’t it? Well, that’s in the eyes of the beholder, as they say. But the latest attempts do have me thinking.
How do you know when you are done? When is enough enough?
Early in the morning, writing in the shed. I do something I don’t always do. I check my word count. I had been writing for over an hour. So, how many words? (As if quantity had anything to do with quality. right?) The count reads 456 words. That seemed low to me.
At the infrequent times I’ve checked word counts before, I’ve had as many as 2000 for an hour’s worth of work and as little as 250. Some writers have said they judge a day’s work by word count, as the job at first is just to get it out, to get the story down on paper, a kind of word vomit. Others take a half-a-day to write 200 words and with that they are thrilled.
Is that enough? Is that…productive?
This leads to more questions.
How do I know when I’ve produced enough description or too much? When I have edited enough? Used enough or not enough dialogue? These are difficult questions. Not because the answers are so individualized, but because art is abstract.
The author K.M. Weiland wrote that learning to understand when enough was enough was as “simple as a feeling.” A writer simply knows when the story is too sparse or too much.
Art is never finished, only abandoned. It’s one of my favorite quotes, and it seemed Leonardo da Vinci had it right. Still, whenever I read anything I have ever published, I inevitably will read something I wish I could change, adjust, embellish, cut. This is not an obsessive act. But it does happen often and when it does, you might find me muttering da Vinci’s words to myself until the feeling goes away.
Sooner or later, your work must be enough. I contend that writing haiku can make this an easier process. Three lines. Seventeen syllables. A strict form. That’s enough. It must be. But everything one may write. it seems, is a crap shoot.
I’m back to my writing now. Tap, tap, tap. I’m certainly nowhere near “enough” for the novel I’m currently working on, not for the overall piece. At least that’s what I feel. Still I wonder: Am I describing the landscape enough or too little in this scene? Do I need that much dialogue here? Maybe I should cut all the dialogue? Is this chapter too long? Too short?
The poet William Blake once wrote, “You never know what is enough until you know what is more than enough.”
I think that’s a start.
Photo by Rux Centea on Unsplash