“Art is never finished, only abandoned” – Leonardo da Vinci
Photo Credit: Tony Hall
The quotes meaning
An aspiring writer should know this quote as well as its meaning. It is important for a writer’s workflow to understand it.
It is simple, you will never come to a point when you are truly finished with your work. Instead you simply stop working on it, or in da Vinci’s words, you are abandoning it.
There is no such thing as perfection
The importance here is, that there is no perfect state that you can or will reach. That is not how art works. You will always find things that you are not happy about and that you can improve on. You will always find things that you are not happy about. It can be a line of dialogue, a simple word or a whole chapter that should have been put earlier.
Another point is that you change, both as a person and as a writer. So in time, your opinion of a piece might change altogether. Both in terms of writing or in terms of content.
It is often the case that writers read through their already published novels and often find many things they’d like to edit or change. That is one of the reasons why there are often multiple editions of books.
The importance for an aspiring writer
Realizing there is no perfect in art, wills how you that there is no perfect result that you should hope to accomplish. You will realize, that trying to be perfect is like hunting for secrets that aren’t there.
What this means is that it sets you free in a way. You can write in a more relaxed way. It is often that especially aspiring writers get caught up in this trap. They will go over every single line, sentence and even word over and over again. The only thing this will lead you is stagnation and frustration. We talked about this sort of perfectionism already, when talking about writing first drafts.
It is not only during first drafts, but also during editing that this is important.
How to edit
Even when editing a story you should never aim to be perfect. You should always try to do the best you can and then move on. Even when you are going through your story word by word, never get caught up by perfectionism. There always has to be a balance between effort and payoff. Writing a novel takes a long time as it is. You will most likely have to go through multiple drafts and after month or even years, you will reach a point when you are simply done.
Abandoning a piece
There are basically two moments when a writer should give up working on a piece:
- When the writer can’t stand the piece anymore
- When the payoff is too small to be worth it
The first one might sound like a joke, but it is the truth. There will be a point in time, when you went over your story so often that you simply can’t stand it anymore. You are fed up with the characters, the setting, the plot and everything else. You simply can’t spend another minute with it. It is at this point, that you are done.
The second one was mentioned above already. After you have gone through multiple drafts, rewrites and edits, there will be a point when the quality of your work doesn’t improve anymore or improves only slightly. It is at this moment that you are done as well. It is often the point when we realize that we are just moving words around, to no avail.
When you reach any of these points it is best to send your work to an agent, editor or publisher and forget about it. After you abandoned your current piece, the best thing to do is to start working on something else.
Taking a break
Now some people might ask, what if you are just taking a break from a piece?
There is in my opinion a distinct difference between taking a break and abandoning a piece altogether. When you take a break it can be for various reasons, it can for example include the following:
- You don’t get any new ideas
- Not knowing how to continue
- Hitting a creative drought
- You are done with a first draft and take some time off
What all these things have in common is that you care about your story and you want to get back to working on it.
Abandoning a piece, even when you are not finished with the first draft yet, means that you are done with it for good. You aren’t hoping to get back to it at a later point as it is now. You are completely done with it.
I can simply say that you should always remember da Vinci’s quote. There is no such thing as perfectionism. It is an unrealistic ideal. Instead of trying to reach it, abandon a piece when it is time and start working on the next one.