How Do You Know When You're Done?

This seemed like a great blog topic when we were brainstorming. Really it did. But now that it's on my screen, and the little blue cursor thingy is blinking away at me, I've come to a sad realization...


I tend to be a writer that jumps too soon. I think I'm done before I should be. I pull the half-baked cake out of the oven when, if I'd only given it a little more time to bake, it could have been perfect. With my current WIP, I resisted that urge. The result? I felt I could have worked on it for six more months! Easily. The more I worked on it, the more I could see things that might make it better. And yet, this same manuscript attracted the attention of my wonderful new agent in only a few days.

So, where's the happy medium? The sweet spot? The little bell in your head that goes off with a DING to say the cake is done?


There are some tiny clues that kinda sorta help me:

You might be ready to hit send are repeatedly editing things that were better before you changed them.

You might be ready to hit send if... all your beta readers are saying, "SEND IT, FOR GOD'S SAKE, BEFORE WE SEND IT FOR YOU!"

You might be ready to hit send if...the thought of working on your manuscript makes you want to throw up a little bit.

You might be ready to hit send still smile with satisfaction when you read the final scene.

You might be ready to hit send if...your characters have stopped talking to you.

You might be ready to hit send still sounds ready when you read it aloud.

The Muses are quick to remind me that even when you're finished, you're really not. An agent will have edits, and back you will go to the "completed" manuscript. An editor will have changes, and back you will go to the "completed manuscript." A copy editor will have changes, and back you will go to the "completed" manuscript. You will be working on this "completed manuscript" for a long time to come. So hitting send, doesn't mean it has to be perfect, but it does have to be ready for someone to see the potential.

So how do you know when it's done?


I met a mystery author a couple of weekends ago. She has about a dozen books in print. I asked her if they're actually finished. She looked at me like I was crazy and said, "Of course not! But you have to just let go." This answer both scared and strangely calmed me.

I freelance. I can't afford to nitpick over every little detail; that's helped me, I think. (And my clients still rehire me, btw.)

There will always be something more that can be "fixed". When I'm just changing little things, and betas only comment on nitpicks, it's ready to send.

However, that doesn't mean I can't still sooth the "AHHHH!" side of me. I'm currently looking at a PoD proof for releasing my self-published book. I'll have to do another proof, because I've already found an error caused by typesetting, and I need to tweak the cover.

I like proofreading with a magenta pen in hand. I've given myself permission to nitpick through the book, marking it up. Most things won't end up in the manuscript, because it's actually acceptable as-is.

It's a huge relief to step back and see: "Oh, most of these are optional changes, and then those other things are typos." *count* "I found more errors in [insert NYT bestseller here]"

I'm way late to this party, but the "how do you know when you're done" question plagues me.

The best thing for me to do (since I get so sick of editing a manuscript that I reach the throw-up stage you mentioned and start querying agents prematurely) is to take a breath & set the ms aside for a month. It's so hard, but usually worth it.

Post a Comment

Grid_spot theme adapted by Lia Keyes. Powered by Blogger.


discover what the Muses get up to when they're not Musing

an ever-growing resource for writers

Popular Musings

Your Responses

Fellow Musers