Imperfect Tense

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Artists who seek perfection in everything are those who cannot attain it in anything.

Eugène Delacroix

The other day I was discussing writing projects with a friend and she said that her current story "needed work". I told her, half-jokingly, that's why first drafts were invented. (Generally, I strive to just get the thing done and then go back and fix it up in later drafts. Otherwise, I know I'll endlessly fiddle with the middle parts and never quite get it finished.) This then led to a discussion of "how things used to be".

During my younger days, I wrote many scripts, stories, and an entire novel(!) using typewriters (both manual and electric). I've discovered that word processors have truly spoiled us in terms of the writing process. In the past, I can remember scribbling notes on a page as it came out of the typewriter with corrections or things to address in the next draft. (I still have these boxed away somewhere. :-) ) And there was always the thought in the back of my mind, "Oh god, I need to re-type all of this again for the next draft!" That's just the way it was, but I think we might have taken more care with each word as we wrote, knowing this.

Word processing programs have taken a lot of the labor out of the work. Now, if I remember something I wanted to do earlier or need to adjust because of a later change in the story flow, I can do it immediately. The technological advantage is a major boon as well as a distraction. The line between first, second, and third drafts begins to blur as it's now so easy to scroll up or open a new window and edit as you go along.

The striving for perfection in our work is as admirable as it can be detrimental to ever completing a writing project. In the typewriter days, a draft was often final for no other reason than because we could not bear the thought of typing it all over one more time. Now, I think there's always the thought, "I can do one more pass . . ." Hence, many writing projects sit not-quite-finished.

So, what's the motivation to finish a project? Certainly, a paid deadline helps. :-) But what about for projects for which you don't have a signed check awaiting its delivery? (Of course, if the projects never gets completed and submitted, it's unlikely that there will ever be a signed check waiting at the other end.) I suppose there's always the persistent nagging of supportive friends and family . . . :-D