The fifth stage of the creative process is COMPLETING. During the hard work of the previous stage, one question keeps coming up: when is my book finished?
Completion isn’t just about what happens when you finally finish writing your book. It happens continually as you work. Each sequence, each scene, each sentence. Every day of good work, every hour of work, every 5 minutes – they all contain their own completion, their own small triumphs.
You know how this feels. The moment you sit back and sigh with happiness because you’ve just completed a difficult section or scene. You found the words and set them down, and now it’s done.
But what you really need to know about your work, whether it’s a short story, poem, novel or screenplay, is: when is it finished? When can you stop rewriting? When can you stop polishing? When can you stop moving the punctuation marks around? In other words:
How can you tell when it’s as good as it’s going to get?
The fear associated with this stage is Critical Mind anxiety and it comes with real dangers. To know if your work is finished you need to look at it critically and assess its merits and flaws. The danger is that instead of evaluating your work in a constructive and reasonable way, you attack it. You become the dreaded thing:
Judgement is a completely natural process. You know what you like and what you don’t like, what works and what doesn’t. It’s intuitive and based on a lifetime of learning (and some conditioning). While judging in this way, you tend to stay engaged with the thing you’re evaluating – it’s part of you, part of your life and experience.
But when you become a critic, you put a distance between yourself and the object you’re criticising. You start to look for stuff that doesn’t work and doesn’t fit. You go out of your way to find problems and faults. You become wholly negative and destructive. If you find yourself doing this in relation to your own work, it probably reflects self-hatred lurking in your shadow.
For Your Consideration
Appraisal makes us uncomfortable. When you put your work out into the world, you risk being exposed, so you defend yourself against that by intellectualising. This makes you too critical and your anxiety turns destructive. Or you might refuse to evaluate your work at all. One way or another, Critical Mind anxiety can stop you making an honest appraisal of your work. You may be too willing to give up, or too willing to think you’ve done a brilliant job.
So what can you do?
You need to apply ‘appropriate appraising’. There’s too much at stake to mess up at this stage in the process – all that work, all those months or years, and what do you have to show for it?
Here are some basic criteria you can apply to help evaluate your work:
- Does it lives up to the original idea, or not. If not, is that a problem?
- What about the market: will anyone buy it? If they won’t, is that a problem?
- Look at the technical aspects of the work: typos, spelling and grammar, as well as structure. Can you fix them?
- Look at the work as a whole: how does it feel, too long, too short?
- Also, look at more specific criteria for this particular work, such as genre.
The most important thing here is to be reasonable. The worst thing you can do now is create a set of criteria that are impossible to fulfil. Don’t expect to create work of such shattering beauty and glory that everyone will weep when they read it. Don’t ask yourself to be perfect. You are most emphatically not a genius – regardless what your ego thinks! You are not going to topple empires, make grown men cry, or compel the rich to part with all their cash. The odds against everyone falling in love with your writing are astronomical.
Don’t go there. Don’t even think it.
Appropriate appraising means you develop realistic and reasonable criteria by which to evaluate your work. Anything less than that and you’ll be doing violence to the work, and yourself, in the process. The trick is to judge artfully rather than to judge critically.
Let Me Go
Completing also includes rewriting. As you evaluate your work you’ll find areas that need to be improved, changed, or cut. Of course, you can’t rewrite your draft until you’ve finished it. And you can’t rewrite as soon as it’s finished either – you’re not ready to look at the manuscript that way. Let it sit for a bit. Take a break. Do nothing. Write something else.
This is the point where another fear rears its ugly head: Attached Mind anxiety. This fear arises because you don’t want to let go of your story. Many questions and doubts will come up to convince you to hold on. You’re not sure the work is finished, and if it is, you’ll have to sell it, and you know you’re not ready to face the dispassionate market. And when (if) it sells, what will you do next? You’re not sure if you’re ready to move on to the next project and deal with the depression and grief that can accompany endings.
So you hold on.
You leave the story languishing in a drawer, ignored and abandoned. Or you start to send the manuscript out anyway. Without doing any research, you randomly send it to the wrong publishers, agents or production companies. You fling it into the world and hope. And then you’re surprised when it’s rejected or ignored!
To deal with this anxiety you need to apply ‘appropriate detaching’ and learn to let go of your work without abandoning it. There’s no trick to this. The only way is to accept you must let go. Celebrate the completion of the work – throw a party. Wear a stupid hat, eat cake, dance and make a fool of yourself.
Surrender means you still care about the work. You’re still going to do what it takes to get it out into the world. Once you’ve detached you’ll be able to see it more clearly too. Detachment allows you to evaluate and rewrite your work more effectively, and then see it the way others will, which is helpful when you come to sell it.
You’ll need to make a fresh commitment to this finished work – knowing you’ll probably have to rewrite it again once you find a publisher, or producer, who’s interested. Of course, in the case of screenplays, they’re never really finished. A script is a blueprint for something else – the finished film. How do you deal with the open-ended nature of scriptwriting? How many drafts is enough?
Enough to sell the script, or the book.
And I guess that’s how you do it – just keep going till you can go no further.
All this takes us into the final stage of actually SHOWING your work, which we’ll look at next.
How do you know when you’ve finished? Share your thoughts and advice below..
Images: The End