So, the prompt for this month's IWSG is right down the dark alley of my insecurities: How do you know your story is ready?
I have a history of mild overconfidence and it has definitely bitten me in the butt before--embarrassing me by having my work in front of people when it wasn't really ready. When the kind-hearted publisher or editor has to say something diplomatic like, "Maybe you should go through this manuscript one more time to clean up the inconsistencies."
Then again, constantly waffling and second-guessing yourself isn't going to "get 'er done" either. You can easily devote your entire life to a single piece that way.
So, like everything, it's finding a balance. Perfection is the enemy of the good. And if you want to make a career of writing, as I do, you have to finish things--and you can't take ten years per project either. We need something between slapdash and OCD.
What's been working for me is a two-pronged tactic: utilizing first readers, and knowing when to put it down and walk away for a while.
When I'm writing something new, I LOVE it! I think it's the best thing ever…until I hit the first snag. Then I think it's all garbage. Un-rescuable. A stupid idea in the first place.
Then, I find my way past the snag and I love it again…until I hit the next snag. But I've learned to persevere. That the most important thing about a draft is finishing it. Making it good is what second, third, and fourth drafts are for.
My first readers (I use a few different groups of people, depending on what I'm doing, where I am, and how much time I have to get it write: online writer friends, real life critique group with a schedule, the husband and older daughter, etc.) are often there for me in the middle of that process. Helping me see the things that are good in something I might only be able to see the flaws in. Letting me bounce ideas off them or pissing me off by being right. I'm so lucky to have them!
The "walking away" advice is some of the best I've ever gotten. You don't do yourself any good banging your head against the wall. You do stupid things in that mindset, like deleting whole manuscripts or slashing and burning indiscriminately. So, when a piece of writing really isn't working for me, I put it down. I take a walk. I write something else (because I write every day… even on days that I can't make progress on my main project). I call my mom. I watch bad TV (it really helps: I know at least that my writing isn't *that* bad).
So, how do I know when it's "ready"?
I read it again after a pause of at least a few days…longer if the piece is really personal. If it still mostly feels good and right, it's time to stick a fork in it and call her done. If it doesn't, I'm usually calm and distant enough after that pause to be a little dispassionate and manage to throw out the nasty bath water without also losing the baby.
If I can't find the problems for myself, I go to some of those first readers and see what they have to say. Often, it's not that they tell me what to do, but something in the conversation will be the click that puts the gears back on track and I get my A-ha! moment and fling myself back at the keyboard with gusto.
I often wish writing was more like baking, where you could literally poke it with a toothpick and know that if it comes out clean, you're ready for primetime. But these are the best tests I've found. It's still a game I play by feel.
What works for you? Whether it's writing or some other creative endeavor, how do you know when you're done?
If you're not already following #IWSG (Insecure Writer's Support Group), you should really check it out. The monthly blog hop is a panoply of insight into the writing life at all stages of hobby and career. Search the hashtag in your favorite social media venue and you'll find something interesting on the first Wednesday of every month.