When Is It Finished?

One of the most challenging aspects of writing is knowing when to put down the pen—or, in our modern world, lift the fingers off the keyboard—and declare the article, blog or book finished. No matter what you’re working on, there will always seem like there’s room for improvement.

But if you keep refining and revising and redoing a novel or blog post or story, you will never share it with a wider audience.

Sometimes writers think, “If it’s not absolutely perfect, no one will read it.” The truth is that perfect in our writing is impossible to achieve. Even great writers make mistakes. How many times have you read a New York Times bestselling author’s latest work only to find a typo on page

10 or a dangling participle on page 201. It happens to the best of writers, and it will happen to the least of writers.

But what good writers have learned is that perfection isn’t the goal—writing for their audience is, and that audience—no matter how big or how small—is forgiving. For novel readers, they want a good story with strong characters that connect with them personally. They want to escape for a few hours into a different world.

They don’t want perfection. They don’t expect perfection. They do expect a clean copy not riddled with grammatical errors, but they overlook small imperfections, knowing that those can’t be helped.

That’s right. You will never catch every single thing that’s “wrong” with your work-in-progress. It’s impossible. You fix one thing, and another slips in. Your best bet is to do the best you can, have proofreaders lend a hand, then it’s time to send that work out into the world.

Yes, it might get stomped on and chewed up by those who don’t recognize steak. That’s the way this world works. Even multi-published authors have unsold manuscripts sitting in a desk drawer.

How do you know when it’s time to stop editing and revising? A good rule of thumb for a novel is to

  • Write a rough draft
  • Do extensive revisions (with a critique partner or group if possible)
  • Send to a few beta readers, making corrections as needed
  • Read through it again
  • Mark it done.

Some newer writers might do the revisions twice if their story changes significantly from the rough draft, and some experienced writers don’t need a step or two. The point is that there is a stopping point that every writer needs to adhere to in order to move the project on to the next level (indie publishing, agent review, editor review, etc.).

The more you write, the more you’ll intuitively know when it’s ready to meet the world. Don’t be afraid to say enough is enough when it comes to editing your work—and let it see the light of day.

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