Wednesday on Writing: When Is It Done?

How do you know when your story is done? That is a very good question, and I’m afraid there isn’t a very good answer. Because, for the most part, it never really is.

“But you have stories and books that you have published. Aren’t they done?”

Well, yes, they are. At least, they have a beginning, middle, and end. I am satisfied with all of the pieces, how they fit, where they go, where they finish. I’ve written, edited, revised, edited again, maybe revised again on all of them and I concluded that they were ready to be read by all of you. And so they are.

But done?

Well, that’s a different question. For many writers, I think, nothing is ever truly done. It’s finished and ready for publication, but I suspect we all feel that we could maybe tweak this or that, reword a bit, do a little more. It’s part of trying to make each and every piece the best it can be. We want everything to be perfect.

But perfection, in writing as in just about everything else, is unattainable. Nothing is ever really, truly perfect. And that goes for the stories I write as much as it does for anything else I do. None of us is perfect, and because of that, nothing we do will be absolutely perfect.

That doesn’t mean it can’t be very, very good, perhaps even great. But I, at least, am very prone to thinking “If I give it one more read through, I can fix all the problems.” Maybe, maybe not. Maybe the “problems” I am thinking to fix aren’t really problems. Sometimes, it’s just that striving for absolute perfection, that unreachable goal, that stands in the way.

So, how do I know when it’s finished versus needing more work? Well, obviously, if I read through something and I find I have questions and that threads are left hanging or the main conflict isn’t resolved in a logical manner, then it needs work. If I find I am reading through and changing “basement” to “cellar” and on the next pass, change it back again, it’s probably time to call it finished. You can nitpick a story to death and too often, it starts to unravel from all the “fixing”. When the fix doesn’t really improve the story, it’s time to stop fixing.

That doesn’t mean it can’t get better. Lots of writers go back sometimes years later and revise and republish a new version of an old story. At that point, maybe you have found ways to really make it better because you have improved and grown as a writer. That is a legitimate reason to say it’s not done. But, for the most part, you have to know when to stop. When to understand that this is finished. It’s ready. That kid is all growed up and wants to be out there on its own.

Time to let go.

(Note: These Wednesday Writing posts are my opinion and my experience only. Nothing I say here is absolute. Nor is it necessarily right for everyone. Writing, like most things, is not one size fits all. If you find something you think helps you, great. If not, no problem. These posts are me. You do you. We’re all in this together, and sometimes, we can learn from each other. So, IMO, YMMV, and all that.)

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