Saturday, 10 September 2011

redrafting, aka penelopising

Long ago, when people didn't work on Sundays - or didn't dare be seen to work - my mum said if I knitted or sewed on Sunday I would pull it out with my nose in heaven. That didn't make heaven sound too inviting, so maybe I was going to do the pulling out in Purgatory. I can't remember the details.

On the other hand, one of her favorite sayings was, 'The better the day, the better the deed', so knitting was acceptable if I applied a bit of Jesuitical reasoning. (Some interesting discussion of Jesuitical reasoning here)

Recently, I was reading one of my favorite blogs, by SF and fantasy writer Gitte Christensen, and she mentioned the word penelopise. This is Australian spelling, and all other references I could find online were penelopize. Penelope was definitely into pulling out her work. But not in heaven. And not with her nose, presumably.

What activity is it? Well, it depends on the reference you consult.

Wordnik defines it as a type of activity used to gain time:
To act like Penelope, the wife of Ulysses, when she was pressed by the suitors; pull work to pieces in order to do it over again, for the purpose of gaining time.
The Phrontistery, on the other hand limits the meaning:
to create work as an excuse to deter suitors
To me this misses the point, because it was in the pulling out that Penelope gained time.

Here's what Gitte said about the word:
the little known but very useful and possibly writerly relevant verb 'to penelopise' , meaning to undo one's work to gain time, derived from "Penelope", the wife of Odysseus. After the Greek hero was declared MIA whilst returning from the siege of Troy, many power hungry suitors approached his wife Penelope and pressed her to marry again. Certain that her hubby would return at any moment, she said she'd marry one of the suitors once she finished weaving a certain tapestry, but she would weave away all night and then undo her night's work in morning to keep the suitors hanging. Some scribes at the launch saw this as being a lot like writing all night only to hit the delete button come morning.
That sure rang true to me. The delete button....If I continually redraft (aka penelopise), I will never finish a story, so I won't be able to send it out, so no-one will reject it for publication. Hmm...I think there's a fallacy in this logic.

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