When Is a Piece of Writing Finished?

Monday, January 14, 2019
Photo Creative Commons via Pixabay

I've been contemplating a question for two weeks now. You see, it feels like the second we type "the end" (either literally or symbolically) to a story, essay, poem, or some piece of writing that it's actually finished and no more needs to be done with it. Of course, that isn't the case. Rewriting needs to be done as well as editing and assessing feedback you receive from other people. And reworking the story based on that feedback. And more revising. And so on and so on.

But when you've done all the rewriting you can, and all the editing you can, how do you know when the story is done? When does feedback become simply a matter of opinion? Sure, that one person thought your names were cliche and your plot line needed tightening, but several other people raved about that piece of writing you sent around. While we're all more inclined to believe the bad news about our writing rather than the good, at some point, we must put our pencils down a declare our work done.

But how do you know when that's the case? How do you know if you're done?

After Google searching this question myself I've realized the answer isn't clear. However, I did learn about a couple of methods you can try when assessing whether you've reached "the end" or not:

1) Give that piece of writing some space.

Whether you need a week or a month or longer, put space between you and that piece of writing. Giving yourself space helps you gain a fresh perspective and see flaws you missed before. Proof of this is when we go back to works from our youth and try to re-read them (don't forget - those stories you cringe at now were prized possessions in the days of your youth).

2) Show it to someone else.

Feedback is important and is also a pretty good gauge as to whether something is done or not. I find that when feedback leans more towards the positive and people have less and less negative to say that it may be a sign the story is ready to send out. Remember, you don't have to change everything people don't like about a story. Someone may not like something about what you wrote and you know what? They may just have to live with it.

3) Send it out.

I found this piece of advice on a blog post I found online and plan on taking it to heart - send out that piece of writing. No matter what your doubts are, your best gauge at figuring out if a piece of writing is finished is to start submitting it.

It's tempting to keep our works of writing in the "in progress" stage because we'll never have to face rejection if something isn't ever done. However, unless you only want to work on that one piece of writing for the rest of your life, you eventually need to let it go and call it done. Think of the bestsellers list. If you read every book on the bestsellers list right now, would you like all of those books? Would you have nothing bad to say? Likely there would be a few you wouldn't finish or ones you didn't like or some you weren't interested in. Does that mean these authors weren't done with their book? Nope. It's simply a matter of opinion at this point. Whether we like it or not, those books are done. And maybe your piece of writing is too (even if you can't accept it).

So, how do you determine if a piece of writing is done? 

Nicole Pyles is a writer and blogger. You can follow her on her writing journey on Twitter @BeingTheWriter or visit her blog TheWorldofMyImagination.blogspot.com


Angela Mackintosh said...

You are so right, Nicole. Just because someone doesn't like something doesn't mean it's not finished, and the bestseller list is a perfect example. What's that saying...opinions are like a certain body part, everyone has them! :) Writing is so subjective. I personally don't follow a lot of advice I get from critiques because it doesn't fit my vision. Usually I have a very strong vision for a piece of writing and don't like to alter it too much except for editing, adding missing details, and sometimes rearranging the formatting. However, I'm totally guilty of keeping works "in progress" so I don't submit them. I hope to change that this year and actually submit something!

Margo Dill said...

This is a good post because you are right, it is so hard to have a definitive answer to this question. I think even once pieces are published, authors are still critiquing their work. I also know a lot of authors that get stuck in the rewriting phase and never get their work out into the world. Thanks for giving us some tips to gauge if our work is ready or not. :)

Sioux Roslawski said...

Nicole--I think it's done when the writer can't stand to work on it another single second. ;)

Renee Roberson said...

Nicole--I'm sitting here nodding my head at everyone's responses. Sometimes it's so hard to know! It took me years to start submitting the YA novel I'm shopping around now. First, I wrote it as an adult novel at 80,000 words. Then, I revised it during NaNo one year and cut in half, focusing on the characters' teen years. I got a professional edit. Then I took it to TWO different SCBWI conferences. I got one bad critique on the first 10 pages, and the next year I got a great critique. I still didn't do anything with it for several years! Finally, I decided enough was enough. It was time to quit being so scared and get it out there. I do have some short stories that I know have good bones, but they aren't quite there yet. It's hard to know! I'm trying to be better and get into a cycle of writing, revising, submitting, and revising if a short piece doesn't go anywhere. It can't hurt!

Nicole Pyles said...

@Angela - I know what you mean about not following critiques exactly! I really only pay attention when it becomes a common theme! I'm the same way about submitting too - and determined to change it this year!

@Margo - As writers, I really don't think we stop critiquing ourselves (even blog posts I've written!).

Sioux - Ha, I've been there! Once I begin to get sick of something, it's done LOL.

Renee - Absolutely! It's such a tough process as well and I'm trying to master it myself. Or at least, speed myself along!

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