Sometimes it’s hard to know when you’re really done writing and revising your book, story, or poem. You could easily tweak your manuscript forever, draft after draft, and still end up asking yourself every time, “is this version any better than the last?”
It can be one of those things: the tighter you grip, the more it slips away. You lose perspective, and by then you’ve traveled so far from the original idea that you can’t even tell if you want to keep walking down this road.
If you’ve entered what Thomas Lee calls “The Black Hole of Revision,” here are a few ways to tell whether your work is finished or not.
1. Submit it —
It’s not called “submission” for nothing. Eventually you have to stop fighting.
Some people are very precious about submitting work to agents or editors. They think they can only send in the stuff that they’re 100% confident in. Nonsense! I’ve sent in packets of four or five poems before, being “certain” of two of them, and really uncertain about the rest.
Guess which ones got published! Yep, the ones I was iffy on. In fact, my most recent acceptance was for a poem I’d started to revise again immediately after submitting it, convinced that I’d found more giant flaws. I cut out those sections and drastically revised the line breaks. The editor said yes to the older version because of the very things I started to get insecure about. Shows what I know!
Don’t be so precious about things. Your inner-compass can sometimes steer you wrong. Send your work to agents and editors and, as my Republican friends say, “let the marketplace decide.”
Of course on the flip side, a rejection doesn’t necessarily mean your manuscript needs more work. It just might not’ve been right for the editor or agent at the time. So you should always keep that fallible inner-compass nearby.
2. Ask a friend —
Nothing revolutionary here. Simply get some feedback from fellow writers you trust. You’ll have to account for minor differences in taste if they make minor suggestions, but if they think it’s good overall, you might be finished with this project.
3. Give it a rest —
Legend tells of a poet (I think it was Richard Wilbur, but who knows when it comes to apocryphal stories about poets) — a poet that wouldn’t publish any of his poems until they were at least a year old.
Why? Well, he needed his work to marinate for a while. Once he thought he was finished writing, he’d put the poem away and let it sit for a year. After that time had passed, he’d be able to see what he’d written with fresh eyes. Sometimes a poem was finished; sometimes not. With time (if not patience), he was able to make those decisions for himself.
How long does it usually take you to see your writing anew? A week, a month, a year? Leave it alone and work on something new, then come back when the buzzer goes off.
How do you tell when you’re done writing a book, story, or poem? Is it an agonizing process? Let me know in the comments section below.
[Finish line image from Shutterstock.]