More Thoughts on Re-Writing

I am still looking over some work that I had previously labeled as “finished,” and yet I continue to find flaws and faults, things I’d like to change. Is something wrong?

Of course not — that’s the beauty of editing. Each time you sit down to re-work a piece of yours, you bring to the table new experiences and thoughts you’ve had since last writing. They may have opened your mind to greater possibilities, or perhaps helped you to determine which of your darlings to kill (to more or less bastardize the phrase).

But the desire to stop and settle with “pretty good” instead of “damn near perfect” hangs heavily over me. Most times, while I’m hunched over my laptop re-reading the same page over and over again, I feel as though all progress has stopped. I get tired, easily distracted, and sometimes frustrated. What drives us to constantly perfect, perfect, perfect?

If nothing does, that’s a troubling issue. As I’ve mentioned before, re-writing is just as important as writing — I can accredit a certain professor’s sage advice for that anecdote. In fact, often times the best parts of your work are revealed as late as the fourth or fifth drafts; fine-tuning carries a great weight.

So if you desire to take your work to its fullest potential, you’ve got to find some way to motivate yourself to keep going. For me, its the prospect of putting my name on it, sitting back and being able to say I’ve pushed myself to my greatest limits in working on my piece. The reception afterwards doesn’t matter; I need to be satisfied with the full extent of my process.

I imagine its different for everyone — whatever drives each individual to create is their own personal motivation. But that’s no reason to rule out trusty old dogged persistence.

I read an article recently about Claude Monet’s collection of paintings that he made surrounding Rouen Cathedral. From winter 1892 into spring 1893, he sat down in front of the structure and painted it in all forms of light, patiently letting the sun determine his palette. Then, not yet satisfied, he brought everything into his studio and reworked thirty canvases from memory into 1894.

For someone who often painted en plein air, I was surprised Monet could find a suitable working environment in the confines of his atelier. In fact, he didn’t even have his own place — apparently he was working form the front of a dressmaker’s shop. Somehow, though, he managed to push through, striving to perfect one of the series he would eventually be most remembered for.

Once he had decided twenty of them were perfectly complete, he submitted his paintings to a Paris gallery exhibition in spring 1895. Lo and behold, eight of them were purchased swiftly, with the group as a whole receiving praise from both critics and fellow painters.

I wouldn’t say that Monet poured himself into these paintings just for the critical acclaim. But I can assume that he did it for the paintings themselves, for the feeling of completion in having pushed himself and his work to what he deemed “perfection.”

Its that kind of motivation that one needs to maintain, the kind that may take years — as in Monet’s case — to pay off. And, one way or the other, it will, either in artistic or commercial success.

Just keep pushing.