Friday, January 17, 2014

True Confessions: When is "finished" really finished?

When is a writing project really finished? I struggle with this question constantly. I'm a tinkerer, and no matter how many times I've revised, I'll always find something I absolutely have to change.

Every time I see another writer claim to have finished a project, many things flash through my mind.

First, if I know you and have been following your progress, there's excitement for you. I know how hard it is to finish a first draft, much less all of the necessary revisions. If you get to that point, it means you are awesome. A writing superhero. How many people say they are going to write a book and never start? Almost everybody walking the planet. How many who start actually get to the end? Almost none of the people who started, and forget about the people who never even got to Word One.

That's followed quickly by envy. I would like to feel like something is finished. But I have yet to be fully satisfied with anything I've written. Even when I think I am, I'll go back and look at it months or years later and find a ton of things I have to fix.

Next comes skepticism. I've seen too many "finished" stories that should never have been put in front of another person so soon. I'm sure agents feel this all the time. I remember my first attempt at a novel. As soon as I got to the end, I thought it was ready to start sending out. It was "done." I mean, I had typed "The End," after all. If that doesn't mean "finished," what does? Of course, the thing was nowhere near done. We've all seen "finished" manuscripts and even books, especially self-published books (I love the idea of self-published books, by the way), that look live they've barely if ever seen a revision.

Then there's another round of envy, mixed with hopelessness. Why am I not able to get to the point where I feel like it's done if you can? Am I that hopeless as a writer. Are you so much better that you can write and revise and finish something and I'll keep working and working and never get there. Sometimes, it's not hard to believe you are that good and I'm just not.

It all comes down to one question for me: what does "finished" even mean? As writers, we hit many milestones that we call "finished," most significantly that hard-fought-for "The End" on the last page of a first draft. We are, and should be, immensely proud and relieved at each milestone.

If we finish and submit and are among the select few to get a contract, there are more revisions at the request of the agent, then the publisher. So we weren't finished before then. Not really. Even after the book goes to galleys there are likely to be small changes.

I guess a book is finished when it's printed and on the shelf. But how often have we seen later editions that include changes? I'm sure when I one day look at my printed book, I'm going to cringe at all the junk I didn't fix, especially if I look at it a few years down the Road of Constant Learning.

So maybe I'll never really finish. Maybe I'll merely let go. 

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