Where Is the Finish Line?
How Do You Know When You're Done?
How does an artist know when a project is finished? For a writer, when is the revision process complete? I've watched dozens of Olympic athletes cross the finish line over the past few weeks, so I've been thinking about endings. It sounds strange that one of my favorite jobs as a teacher was running the xerox machine during my duty period. But there was a finite amount of work, and you knew when you were done - not true of many other teaching tasks. The hubs says the same thing about cutting the grass; you know when you're done, and you can see the results of your work.
The truth is you're never completely done with that creation. There are endless tweaks, revisions, cuts, additions, corrections and general improvements you could make, even when you feel you should be finished. It's a problem for me because there are SO many variables in each sentence and each paragraph, and I want to get it JUST RIGHT. Every time I think I've finally completed a particular chapter, I realize on rereading a few days later that there are changes I want to make.
But I've learned that, at some point you have to call it. At some point you have to stop. I've learned a few things that have helped me find the finish line. I know it's time to type "THE END":
1. When I make changes, then go back and delete the changes to return to the original phrase because I've reached a point where I'm overworking my prose.
2. When I look at my notes and don't find plot points or details I want to add.
3. When I've read the entire book out loud and changed wording that sounds awkward to the ear.
4. When I'm no longer finding typos, misspellings, mechanical problems on rereading.
5. When I have to MAKE myself reread one more time and it's hard to focus because I've practically memorized it.
6. When I've let it simmer for several weeks without peeking, and I'm still satisfied with it when I read it once more.
7. When I'm starting to get excited about other people reading the book.
Eventually, I know I have to STOP because it will NEVER be finished to the satisfaction of an insecure lover of words. I used to inwardly cringe, when I read from my work in public, at diction I wished I could tweak - because no book is perfect and there will always be improvements that could be made. But I've learned to ignore that inner editor and block out the critic so I can focus on lending drama and emotion to my characters. I remind myself that each opportunity to interpret my story for listeners is a gift. A reading isn't about perfection; it's about drawing your audience into the story, offering them an invitation - through a sample - to experience everything your book has to offer.
I'm sure this problem with endings plagues all artists. How do you know when you've finished a song? a drawing? a painting? a poem? a website? a sermon? a dance routine? a piece of furniture? a house you're renovating? a garden design? a cake decoration? a blog entry?
This blog entry's done. I'm calling it. Let me know if you have advice on crossing the finish line.