Take this job and shovel it…

So I was shoveling snow for several hours the last couple of days, and as I finished up, I wondered — how do I know when I’m done? It’s easy to see when you are not done with something, but not when you are done…

OK, to be fair, you could keep shoveling. You could scrape the sidewalk until it’s completely clear, make sure there are no pockets of snow in the corner of the steps. So I guess the real question is, when are you done enough? Because it would take hours on top of the hours I’ve already spent making everything pretty and perfect, but it wouldn’t really matter unless I want people to say, “wow, that guy really shovels his walk.” I figure if we can make your way up and down the steps, walk around to the back, get both cars out of the garage, and passers by can walk safely, it’s good enough. At the same time, I am appropriately fair-minded about what is good enough. I don’t expect passers by to keep to a narrow tunnel of snow I’ve carved out of the sidewalk, or to wend their way to our front door through a zigging and zagging route up the steps. I don’t expect me or my wife to master stunt driving to get into and out of the sloping driveway. I’d say good enough is pretty good. I feel appropriately prideful looking at the clear paths, the order brought to chaos, and am able to cut myself some slack on the eighth-inch of packed down snow along the sidewalk or the crumbling snow along the edges of the steps.

Today as I finished and wondered if I was finished, I thought of this quote an author friend recently posted to his Facebook Wall.

‎”It would have been better if I’d taken the time.” I was dumbfounded when I heard a novelist friend say this. But if the writing can’t be made as good as it is within us to make it, then why do it? In the end, the satisfaction of having done our best, and the proof of that labor, is the one thing we can take to the grave. (Raymond Carver, On Writing)

It made me wonder whether or not I make my writing as good as it is within myself to make it. I know it isn’t perfect, but can it be better? I don’t know. I know I try, but I also know I end up making concessions, letting a few prosaic passages serve to move the plot forward, or revise a scene because I can’t make it work the way I visualize it. My novels are about as tidy as my winter sidewalks. Good enough — nobody will slip or fall — but probably not likely to be described as “perfectly written,” or be admired for their lyrical beauty.

And to that, I say: oh well. I’ve done my civic duty. It’s warmer inside and there’s a game on.

8 thoughts on “Take this job and shovel it…

  1. I think your writing is great! And I hope you write an adult novel someday. Soon. And you and Angela have the cutest little peanut of a baby who brings joy and wonder to all who see him.

  2. Such a tough thing to me. When I think about music that I love, I tend to dislike work that is overly polished, every speck and blemish removed. So there’s definitely a downside to overworking things, Wordsworth revising all his poems (badly) toward the end of his life.

    That said: I work very slowly these days, and tend to distrust folks who claim to be “fast” writers.

    JP

  3. This post appeared in my email just after I closed Word for the morning with this very question on my mind. How do you know when you are done? It’s hard to leave characters to go on with their lives after writing them for so long.

  4. There is not one piece of artwork (or writing, for that matter) that I’ve done that I wouldn’t love to go back and improve. Everything could use a tweak or two. Usually I try to leave some time near my deadline so I can go back in and tweak some illustrations before sending them off to the publisher.

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