“No book can ever be finished. While working on it we learn just enough to find it immature the moment we turn away from it.” – Karl R. Popper
Karl Popper was not referring to fiction when he said this, but I think it may be even more relevant for the genre. I am certain I have discarded at least four times the number of pages that actually ended up in the final draft of my book (that is, the current, third, and what I hope is the real ‘final draft’).
Despite being done-ish with my novel, The Pull of the Earth, I stand by my past (and future) choice to many times focus on the process more than the product, and to ignore my own voice and those of others as we continually wondered whether I would ever call it finished. Part of that had to do with the quote above—finding parts of it immature, or below my high standards. But it also grew from an understanding that came to me during those years and more than a decade of studying fiction as a hobby. I attended workshops, wrote consistently, and revised… revised… revised.
The most important thing I realized is that while I am working on my fiction writing, it is also working on me. Writing is my teacher and therapist. I’m not writing to get published quite as much, it turns out, as I am trying to write my way to the meaning of life and transformative experience.
Freeing myself from completion-mindedness allows my writing time to sweep me into a creative flow and process that has rich gifts to bestow. Writing turns out to be a kind of challenge and healing in which my subconscious takes me places that I need to go long before I consciously know why. Even when the definitive reason remains elusive, I can feel something being worked.
The discussion around finishing the novel also reminds me how goal oriented we are as a society, and that something is missed when we’re not doing a thing primarily for its own sake. It used to be that wealthy people had drawing rooms where they took lessons or practiced drawing not so much to produce artwork, but for the benefits it provided the mind and the way it improved one’s coordination and ability to see. It offered the pleasure of being engaged in a healthy process. Similarly, before we could so easily keep track of how far and how fast we’re going, people went for bike rides with no destination and no concern for self-measurement. When I write a sentence or paragraph that expresses something that matters to me, there’s a pure joy in it.
There have been times over the years when I thought momentarily that I was finished with a certain piece, or with the novel—but usually when I look back at old versions, I know I was right to keep going and I am grateful I did not publish prematurely. Do you agree, or have you had a different experience? I would love to hear.