I’m just back from a terrific stag do. We were badly hungover on Saturday morning but just about made it to the weekend’s activity which involved tripping up people in giant costumes, penguin sumo wrestling and climbing a rope on a slippery, soaped up bouncy castle (ending up arse over tit). Computer games and books are a poor substitute for the way we used to play in our youth.

Between the hijinks, pubs and clubs, my friend mentioned that his young son often becomes so engrossed in what he’s doing that when the time comes for him to go to the toilet he’ll carry on playing and ignore the consequences. Apparently this is common in boys. Imagine how fulfilling life would be if we took having fun that seriously. Imagine what we could achieve if we had the dedication necessary to wet ourselves rather than put down our pen, guitar or paintbrush. Perhaps this is taking personal productivity too far.

The art of finishing

There’s an amusing book review in the TLS about Musorgsky and his fellow composers’ capacity for procrastination. Apparently, chief among Musorgsky’s offences was working on two operas at once, finishing neither.

I generally think our passions are good at telling us when to work on something and when to let something else ferment. However, it no doubt takes a concious effort to actually see final drafts through to completion, especially when it comes to ambitious visions such as these.

one of Walsh’s leitmotifs is the lackadaisical fashion in which most of the kuchkists applied their gifts. He quotes Rimsky-Korsakov, the big exception, recalling a time in the 1860s when the group could congratulate themselves because Nikolai Lodyzhensky “wrote one romance, Borodin got an idea for something, Balakirev is planning to rework something, and so on”.

— Paul Griffiths, Musorgsky and the Mighty Handful

With that in mind, I might make finishing things my new priority (though I’m not entirely sure what the old priority was). I recently browsed a list of ‘100 books you must read before Andromeda and The Milky Way collide‘ and realised that I sometimes have trouble finishing other people’s novels, let alone my own.

But to be clear: things can be too finished, especially if by ‘finished’ we mean spending countless hours retrospectively removing all trace of the process and craft. That kind of perfectionism is demanding and often detracts from the work by ironing out the idiosyncracies and expression that most people find interesting.

Perhaps it’s best to just do what comes naturally and see what happens. If you end up writing ‘Night on Bald Mountain’, it can’t be too bad an approach.