In the end, the whole thing might be mediocre. The short story, the article, the novel—though you want to finish something, though you want to declare victory, there is something in the back of your brain that tells you that if you stop now the project that you thought could have been great will just be plain mediocre, or worse embarrassing.
As I’m editing my novel (or should I be polishing, or should I be revising) it occurs to me that my hair is thinning…and it won’t be long before impotency sets in. Life is short, and how long am I really going to spend not-writing, but editing? I get up to go make myself a cup of coffee and realize that there is a full cup right at my desk.
Ah, I see.
Well, how long has that cup been sitting there? When to keep pushing and when to give in? When to let it sit and when to ask for a second opinion? The great Dr. Lance Carbuncle (author of Smashed, Squashed, Splattered, Chewed, Chunked and Spewed ) recently told me that at some point your book just becomes a petulant teenager and you need to kick him/her out of the house. But that brings up the question: Is that troubled teenager going to eventually find his/her way? Or are they going to role up under a bridge and smoke crack?
The Japanese have this great word—Kaizen. It means continual improvement. Their traditional business system is known for being able to eliminate errors, produce something close to perfection. At the same time, the Japanese are infamous for being short on revolutionary innovations and creativity. Bill Gates would dispute me on this, tooth and nail—he points to Japanese anime as his support. A Japanese student of mine once told me in all earnestness that he didn’t have any imagination. I asked him to picture himself at an airport and he couldn’t produce a single mental picture. So when the need for a revolutionary change comes along, the focus on Kaizen, gradual polishing, only serves to obscure the fact that large parts of the system or even the entire system itself is in dire need of an overhaul. I could be writing about the Japanese economy, but actually I’m still talking about writing.
But if your book is an arrogant teenager, do you really want to start all over again?
A last thought: Is it possible to polish every unique and genuine thing from a piece of work? Have you ever listened to a rock band and thought “Wow, their independently produced album was so much better. Raw, yes, but better”? Where does all this polishing get us, anyway? Is it just raw process that that takes us away from the Real of desire? In the end, isn’t it that moment, that pure writerly moment that you have to communicate?
For more short stories like this, please check out “Reejecttion”