When is a work of art finished? Is it ever, or do we simply abandon it when we’ve had enough?
In early summer 2013, I completed my debut novel, Under the Black Sand. It was done. After years of work, from a short film to a screenplay to a different screenplay to a novel, to a different novel to yet a different novel, it was finally done. I checked spelling, grammar, designed a cover and published on Amazon.
An early review mentioned error. The horror! I went back to work, ironed out whatever I could find and re-published. I would never have to look at the story again. In 2019, I did revisit it, after I decided to translate it into Icelandic. I changed the structure a bit, one communicates differenty in another language. I shortened the chapters. The original novel had 80.000 words spread over 13 chapters, the Icelandic version was 92.000 words across 26 chapters.
That was it. No more. Never. I had written and published another novel by this time and it was firmly time to move on.
In October 2022, I was working on finishing my third novel. I design my own covers and as I was working on this, I opened the previous two. The Black Sand one and Blood and Rain. I was happy with Blood and Rain, but the first one I designed… it looked dated. I could probably do better.
I went to work, first replacing the main image, then tweaking the back cover… then removing an element. Before I knew it, I had a complete redesign. Nothing was left of the old. It looked new and fresh.
But the novel itself? Did that still hold up? I couldn’t just republish a new cover? I fired up the old project and started reading. Fixed a couple of things, removed two scenes I always felt slowed the story down and added an opening scene. Something that would take the reader by the hand, lead them into the story. Reading it, all these years later, it felt like I’d thrown them into the deep end. Keep reading and you’ll figure it out. Not so much now. At least, that’s the idea. It was still 80.000 words, but spread across 27 chapters.
As I finished the editing, I decided it was time to say goodbye to the one thing that had stayed unchanged since the short film days. The typeface. I replaced the old and trusted font on the cover, replaced it with soething more modern, something cleaner.
And that was it. A new book. It felt fresh and new. I could now show it to people again.
So when is a work finished? It never is. Sure, creating an outline and writing the first and second drafts is a great deal and everything is fluent. Subsequent revisions are a matter of diminishing returns. There comes a point where you think, any work I put into this from now on isn’t going to change a whole lot. Time to let it go.
I’m sure a painter or a musician would say the same thing.
Looking at it years later meant I was reading it almost like someone that hasn’t read it before. Some things I’d forgotten, some were, oh yeah. I remember that. But most importantly, I read it objectively, saw a few flaws and fixed them, saw the scenes that added nothing and were potentially tedious, and saw where a bit of extra info was needed.
That’s it. Under the Black Sand is done. I will never look at it again. I think.