Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Best Advice I Ever Got: Know When to Quit

I can’t pinpoint a particular source for this piece of advice. Maybe that’s because it’s one of those maxims applicable to a variety of situations and circumstances.

Eighth grade Home Ec, for instance. I remember making a fruit salad that was held together with whipped cream. In the days before tubs of pre-whipped artificial fluff, that meant beating heavy cream until it thickened and held its shape.

Beat it one turn of the mixer blades too long, however, and the cream separated into butter and whey. No turning back, no turning back. The only thing to do was to start over with a new batch of cream.

Art can be like that, too. It’s tempting to work and rework a painting, a poem, a play before we let go of it. Just another few brushstrokes here, rework a scene there, and it will be perfect, right?

But work it too long and art suffers. Maybe not quite so visibly. But somehow inspiration and technique separate, and we lose the impetus that drives us to share our work. And isn’t sharing our work part of the point of creating it?

Quitting too soon, of course, isn’t good either. Cream not whipped enough returns to its liquid state, resulting in runny fruit salad. Half-baked plots result in stories that fall apart.

Knowing the point at which a creation is ready to be presented to the world is an art in itself. Not too soon, but not too late, instead of being hidden away under the pretext of not being quite finished.

I wrote this for the August/September 2009 "Hoot O' the Owl," the newsletter of the Clearwater Branch of the National League of American Pen Women. Enjoy!

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