Monday, April 04, 2011
Those last two inches -- or when do you stop?
MBA types talk about "the 80/20 rule" (you get 80% of the results with 20% of the work), and "diminishing returns" -- those last hours or, depending upon how obsessive you are, days or weeks you spend polishing and perfecting a project. From a business point of view, those usually aren't worth making: they don't bring in any more money than turning in the project without them would.
But for an artist, it's different. It's really hard to know when to do that last polishing and how long to do it. I'm really curious to know if other people have rules about that. I used to polish EVERYTHING to perfection, and now I'm realizing, especially with client work, that if the client isn't going to pay me for that time, and doesn't care anyway, that it's simply not worth it. I force myself to stop when it's good enough....most of the time.
Sometimes, I just fall in love with the project and keep working and perfecting until my hourly rate has dropped to -- well, we won't go into that. But increasingly, these days, good enough is good enough.
With my own writing, it's a lot harder to stop, let go, decide, finish --whatever you want to call it. The rule I used to go by is when I'm not definitely making it better but am just making it DIFFERENT, it's time to stop. But now I'm trying to stop sooner than that -- when I'm proud of it, and it still feels fresh (as opposed to when I can't stand to look at the damn thing one more time).
A short piece is done if:
*it says everything I wanted it to say
* everything in it interests ME
*I can read it out loud without my voice faltering or my insides quailing and wincing
* every word is the best I can make it
For novels, though, it's different. A first draft gets only the first....a second or third draft only the second; and unless there's a pretty good chance of the book being published, I don't think it's worth getting it to the "every word" level. Better to spend the time moving on to something else -- for artistic/creative AND financial reasons! WEll, most of the time. That's what makes it hard--I never really know.