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#CMBroken: When Does Reworking End and Breaking Begin?

A personal reflection by Sophia Kapchinsky & Andre Farant, CreativeMornings/Montréal 

I used to belong to a writers circle. We would bring samples of our work to be reviewed and discussed, get feedback on our writing and provide it to others. Much of it dealt with editing and rewrites, cleaning up a first draft. One guy, though, seemed intent on heading us off before we could suggest a single edit. He would bring us bits of writing that he had clearly edited himself, over and over again. In the end, though, his piece was barely decipherable. He’d edited the thing into meaninglessness.

As with any creative endeavour, reviewing, reworking and refining are essential. That first draft, first sketch, first version is the fun part; the tweaking and trimming is where the real work is done. To paraphrase Ernest Hemingway, you write drunk but you rewrite sober. But how do you know when the reworking process is complete? How do you know when you’ve done enough and are about to overdo it?

Reworking need not be solitary work

Stephen King has said that, given the chance to rework previous novels, he could find hours’ worth of words to remove, characters to refine, plot points to alter. But, back when he originally wrote these novels, King did, at one point, decide that he was done. Of course, King had an editor to give him perspective on when to call it quits. It’s a reminder that no creative work is—or need be—a solitary endeavour. Bring a second—or third or fourth—pair of eyes to you work, before and after you’ve reworked it.

The importance of creative restraint

To many, the paintings of Jackson Pollock look like random splashes of colour, with little to no sense or planning. With work like his, it is hard to imagine how he could have ever determined when to quit splashing paint upon the canvas and call it a job done. Pollock’s work, as bold  as it may be, is a classic example of artistic restraint. Just as good jazz is about the notes that aren’t being played, Pollock’s painting is about the paint that wasn’t dolloped, drizzled and dripped. The same restraint must be applied to the reworking process. Unfortunately, for those looking for an easy answer, restraint comes primarily through experience, practice, and confidence. Take the time to master your craft and learn when to walk away.

Making peace with imperfection

Confidence is key. That guy in my writers circle? The way he reworked everything to death was a demonstration of his own lack of confidence. He strived for perfection but overreached. He broke his own work. To build confidence, accept that no one—and no work—is ever perfect. Perfection is a bottomless pit. Accept that imperfection is acceptable, that it’s part of the process, that it makes your work more interesting and—more importantly—it makes it yours, because no one can be imperfect quite like you.

 Text: Sophia Kapchinsky & Andre Farant

 Illustration: Donald Ely