During my career I spent years finishing and delivering completed bits of work. And, in retirement this has continued unabated although at a rather different level (last week it was one article, two blogs and some French homework!). Whatever the work, what strikes me as mysterious is how I (or anyone else) seem to be able to recognise exactly when a particular piece of work is ‘completed’. I might have been writing an article for weeks – toying with hundreds of ideas, thousands of words, millions of possible combinations – and then, at a certain moment on a certain day, I could decide that it was done. As a jobbing writer/editor my task would never be as complex as that of a painter, sculpture or composer but the principles will have much in common. Somehow, all of us will have had to decide when pieces are finished, when there is nothing more we want to, or need to, or even could, do. We have developed the capacity to tell when our work is ready to leave our studio/workshop/word processor, and enter the ‘public’ domain to be owned, exposed, scrutinised, (hopefully) enjoyed and possibly traded by others.
I rather assume that a large part of the decision-making process is pragmatic. For me, sometimes it might be dead-line driven – the article has to get to the journal by the start-of-work on Monday morning, so whatever I have written at 9.0 am will be the finished article. Sometimes it is cost-driven – I am being paid x pounds for this, so at y pounds per hour that equates to 20 hours work, so whatever I have after 20 hours will do. Sometimes it is through phasing. Here I will finish the work up to a certain level and seek the views of (interested) others before adding the final touches. But whatever the strategy, from the outset I will have developed an image of what the piece should feel/look like in its final form. So, it is by matching the work against that image, and taking into account what the constraints are in producing that image, that I can decide when the work is done. My sense is that as we get older, and know ourselves and our skills better, judging when a piece is done (or what needs to added to get it done by the deadline) has become easier – it certainly has for me. Ah, the advantages of grey hares.
[Readers should note that the finished version of ‘La Giaconda/Mona Lisa’ may be found at the Louvre, Paris.
The finished version of this article may be found on the BMJ Doc2Doc blog – Job well done? January 6, 2010]