By Brenda Riojas, I Start Wondering Columnist
Finished. Done. But wait. When is a project complete?
When we get near the end of a project (or what we might even consider the end), we can’t forget a vital phase of the creative process – the editing and fine tuning. As we look at our work, it is helpful to take a step back and consider what needs to be trimmed, added or tweaked. Here is where we invite the critic in us to offer some suggestions to improve our creative efforts.
I have come to value what I call the re-visioning phase. When a poem does not feel ready, for example, I like to experiment and look at it with new eyes to re-vision what is on the page. Naturally, it does help to walk away from what I’ve written. Sometimes I let it sit for a few minutes, sometimes a few days or even months. When I return to it, I find I can be more critical of the work.
We have to be careful not to become so enamored with what we create that we hesitate to change a thing. Stepping away for a bit allows us to return with fresh eyes. Distance gives us some perspective. It is also helpful to get feedback from someone you trust to be honest.
Seeing New Possibilities
In the re-visioning phase, it’s worth exploring what is possible. Once I get to the finish line, a poem might be entirely different from when I started. In an interview with Martin Lammon published under the title “Flying Revision’s Flag,” poet Donald Hall quotes Geoffrey Hill, “who said that as you get older the inspiration comes at the end not at the beginning.”
My re-visioning varies depending on what I am trying to achieve in a poem. I might do a sound check; look at the architecture (form, structure, lines, stanza or strophe breaks); evaluate the core/content; scrutinize the word choice; even evaluate the risk factors to determine if I have tried something new or new for me. Hall said, “You should stare at a poem long enough so that you have one hundred reasons for using every comma, one hundred reasons for every line break, one hundred reasons for every and and or.”
Keeping the Essential
It can be a challenge, but fine-tuning and pruning allows us to cut out the excess and keep the essential. It’s helpful to have goals when editing. As you begin the process, think of what your desired goal is for the finished piece. Sometimes the goal is set for you. I enjoy the challenge some publications place when they specify specific parameters. For example, I recently submitted to a publication that set the word count at 100 — not less, not more.
No matter what you are creating or have created, whether it deals with manufacturing processes or art, the editing phase is key. My husband’s work focuses on six-sigma optimization. I think our creative work can benefit from looking at ways to maximize our desirable outcomes and continuous improvement (terms my husband uses often).
A Work in Progress
We each need to consider and develop a revision process that works best for our projects. Taking some concepts from the business world are helpful. At work, I am a proponent of the SWOT analysis, which looks at strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. We can use this or adapt it for our creative lives as we strive for excellence. Striving for quality, we need to keep in mind some projects are a work in progress. Our homes, our gardens, our families, ourselves — we are all works in progress.
I take delight in the journey. I delight as well in witnessing how revision can lead to some unexpected surprises. When do you know a creative work is ready? What surprises have you encountered along the re-visioning phase?