When is “done” done?

– by Victor Acquista

I recently completed a novel. Well, I think I completed it. But I’m not sure. I have doubts, uncertainties, and insecurities. Am I really finished? Would another round of edits, or input from additional beta readers spot something or provide input that leads me to change something, improve something, give the writing additional buff and shine?

How do you know when a work is done to final completion? How do you decide? When all is said and done, any work can undoubtedly be improved. Where is the point to invoke the law of diminishing returns?

Recently, I’ve immersed myself into the world and nuances of editing. Macro and micro editing, developmental, line, content, and copyediting, constitute a confusing maze to negotiate. Do I trust an editor to tell me everything is good to go?

This particular novel is written under contract with a publisher. At the end of the day, they decide if and when the book is ready to be published. If I was self-publishing, the decision is entirely my own. In this particular instance, I am responsible for providing a finished work that is “editorially acceptable”. That designation is a term of art. Isn’t there something subjective about what is or is not acceptable? Where is the line drawn? How am I to know? Have I indeed finished this particular novel?

I want to provide a fully polished work-product that is as good as I can make it given my writing skill set and level of accomplishment. Am I at that point with my current work? Is now the time to submit it? Would another set of eyes see something that I am missing? When you are fully immersed in a plot and characters, when you have read and reread, and tweaked things ad nauseum, objectivity is lost.

When do you say, “enough is enough”? How can you make that determination? Is there a process, a guideline, an invocation or end-ritual to help determine that I am done? When is “done” done?


17 thoughts on “When is “done” done?

  1. Christy Moceri says:

    I have no answer, only empathy. I’ve been working on my first serious project for six years, and have had at least 20 beta readers. I was told it’s publishable as-is, but I went and ripped it apart again to address the feedback of a developmental editor. I then got overwhelmed by the task of rewriting the ending, quit writing altogether for six months, and am now focusing on other projects to restore my love of writing. Perhaps it’s finished when you despise it.

    Liked by 6 people

      • Christy Moceri says:

        Oh, without question. This was my first serious novel, and I learned a lot from writing it. One of the things I learned is that I really only need the feedback of a trusted few. I think the reason I let so many people read it is I wanted to prove myself. I wanted to show people I wasn’t wasting my time. That’s a dumb reason to seek feedback. I also made the mistake of getting feedback too early in the process, which had me warping the content to suit others rather than saying what I really wanted to say. I also learned to get the macro structure right before wasting four years obsessing over tiny aspects of scenes I would have to throw out anyway. That’s actually why I’m in this mess and why I finally wore out over this one project. I had no clue what I was doing.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. victoracquista says:

    Your words bring comfort and solace to my troubled spirit.
    I also totally get, “Perhaps it’s finished when you despise it.” It caused me to think of Popeye’s quote, “That’s all I can stands, cuz I can’t stands n’more!”
    For the moment, I have nestled comfortably into a crevice of unknowing: don’t have a clue, could be finished but then again perhaps not, don’t know, don’t care, go away story and characters and leave me alone, I’m meditating. There is room in this dimly lit place of unknowing in case anyone wants to join me.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Christy Moceri says:

    So much of the value of being an artist comes from those weird, unknowing places. I was commenting to a friend the other day that we always seem to tackle the projects that seem just out of our reach. If you’re wondering, “Why did I ever think I could pull this off?” you are probably on the right track. I signed up to write a short story for a post-apocalyptic anthology in order get over my terror of writing short stories. Naturally I picked one of the most complicated subjects I could imagine. But that’s how we like it, isn’t it?

    Liked by 3 people

    • victoracquista says:

      I think when we move into the territory outside our comfort zone it helps us to grow and develop creatively. Same ole, same ole doesn’t provide the challenge or motivating impetus. Some of my better achievements came after committing to stretching myself. “Not sure I can do this well” sometimes precedes the leap to, “What the hell, I’ll give it a go. The worst that can happen is that I fail.” Either way, that becomes a good learning experience to chalk up. We don’t know our limits or capacities unless/until we try.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. mimispeike says:

    I am still tinkering, I have time to tinker, I will publish when my website is ready to go and that means a bit of time yet. I am creating the art for my site. When I find a yummy word in my recreational reading (currently Dear Dark Head, a history of Ireland, published in the nineteen-thirties) I can plunk it in as I see fit.

    Aside from that, my handling of my tale is set in stone. I’ve given up on seeking opinions. A developmental editor tore my structure apart, and all it did was make me more sure I had taken the right path (and double down on it). My choices pair perfectly with my intentions, and with the flavor of the thing. At a certain point, you have to trust your instincts. And be ready to live or die on the hill you’ve occupied.

    Liked by 3 people

      • mimispeike says:

        That editor told me, your style says to readers, I don’t care if you like this or not. Well, those readers who object to my methods would not be my audience. Lots of people have had problems with my story-telling devices (comic footnotes, heavy author-intrusion) and a few have adored my shenanigans. Those are my people.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Christy Moceri says:

          By sharing indiscriminately I got a lot of, “this is too dark” and “I don’t like your protagonist, she’s too violent for a woman” and “this is really compelling but I want it to be about something else.” Along that journey, though, I found the people I was writing it for, who intuitively understood it and loved it. I also found my identity as a writer and learned to embrace that whether everyone “gets it” or not, this is the weird thing I do, and I love doing it. Fortunately I got an editor who understood the work and didn’t try to change the content, the tone or the style. But I do trust her structural feedback – that was not my strong suit – so I do plan to make those changes. Eventually.

          Liked by 2 people

          • The worst kind of feedback you can get is from people who want you to write the book as they would write it. As far as I’m concerned, In order for a reader’s feedback to have any validity, he or she needs to approach the work on its own terms. I’m glad you’ve found an editor who is able to do that.

            Liked by 1 person

  5. Perry Palin says:

    The book is done when it has been published. Before that it’s a work in progress.

    I have turned away temporarily from my novel. I tell myself it’s because I have so much else to do, some of which needs to be done, and some of which is just as much fun as writing. I carried the novel as far as I can, and then paid a very well read young man to do a developmental edit. I’ve been looking at his suggestions. He says he likes the book. It will be done when it is accepted by a publisher and then actually appears on the market.

    The same goes for short stories. I have a story that beta readers have admired for three years but I’ve never found the right place for it. A contest came along, and I added 800 words at the beginning and changed the ending to help my chances in the contest. When I don’t win, the story will again be one of my favorite WIPs.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. mimispeike says:

    A print book is indeed set in stone. An ebook? I understand that they are replaceable with little fuss, they can be updated. Anyone know about this?

    My Sly: A Rogue Reconsidered (the umbrella title of my series) may eventually have to be changed to: Sly: The Never-Ending Story.


  7. Death is final.  Writing isn’t.

    Sometimes I have revisited a technical paper written long ago.  Tho polished til it glowed (in a rigorous editorial process that involved coauthors and peer review), the paper had typos and minor errors that had gone undetected.

    Reading a WIP after having set it aside for a while does seem to be helpful, but eventually I just let it fly and hope there are no howlers.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. victoracquista says:

    After being taunted and haunted by characters and story, I am thoroughly enjoying this break. Given my propensity to unrestrained procrastination, I plan to have an extended time of resting my eyes and brain before giving things another read. Sunshine and time with friends are the perfect tonic for long spells of seclusion indoors writing, thinking, and head scratching about my novel. I plan to take full advantage.

    Liked by 2 people

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