I remember so well when I was a younger kid….
My grandmother would ask me what size slice of cake I wanted. I would say “big”. She would put the knife on the cake top, measuring a sliver, and say “This big?” I’d say “NO! Bigger”. The knife would move a bit more and she would say “Say when.” The knife would move almost all over the cake until I’d say “When.” It was usually the size piece she had in mind for me from the start. It was a little game we played that let me think I really did control the size of the piece of cake I got. “Say when” was used often in our house. Pouring coffee for my dad, refilling a glass of milk for my mom – the act would always start with “Say when” and end with them saying “When!” when the container was full enough.
Maybe that’s the key. When is “enough”?
This comes back to me each time I sit down to write an article or story. I’ll start out with what I call “cranial diarrhea” or “brain leakage”. I just let the thoughts spill out on the page without any personal editing filter. Then comes the hard part - the editing. The questions that I ask myself start creeping in; such as, “What needs to go?”; “Did I make that clear?”; “What if it doesn’t make sense?”
Yesterday, I sent my first picture book manuscript into a contest for authors, published and unpublished. Technically, I’m not a published author yet. Yes, I’ve written curriculum guides, lesson plans, articles for my community newsletter, and articles for my church newsletter, and other random writing. But I have never exchanged my written work for dead Presidents – gotten paid. So, I really am a true rookie at the writing business.
I jumped all over this contest. I had the idea swirling in the recesses of the brain. I went through the “leakage” mode and wrote everything down. After each time I dealt with the manuscript, I put it away and looked at it later with fresh eyes. That trick I learned when writing research papers. But this contest presented me with a deadline. At some point, I’d have to say “when”.
This bit of behavior is something all writers wrestle with, I am sure. How much editing needs to be completed before you pitch the idea to an agent or editor? How much writing has to happen before an editor sees your work? I always have wrestled with “saying when” even on essay questions in school. An author wants the work to be good, to reflect well on the author, and to be successful in the marketplace. But when is the right time to let the work stand on its own? To back off? To stop editing?
I am still learning, even at my age.
So here is this list of rhetorical questions for pondering. I can’t answer them now. I truly think the “say when” point will be different for each project. Deadlines work for me now. What works for you? How about sharing?
Talk about “saying when” – I’m going to post this with only 1 read-through, fragments, misspellings and all. This is a sample of leakage. It’s been on my mind for a while. So now it’s time to move it out of my brain, onto some paper, and make room for more ideas in the cranial cavity.