Monday, June 1, 2009

Is It Done Yet?

In some ways writing a story is similar to cooking. Mix the right ingredients in the correct amounts to get the flavor and texture you’re looking for, test it, add a bit more of this or a pinch of that until the desired consistency, smell, and taste measure up to expectations. Sometimes, as with any concoction, the whole thing ends up in the nearest garbage can, but that’s a blog for another day.

In this entry, I’m focusing on when a project is done. Tricky question, right? It is for me. Sure, I know when to write “The End.” But unlike when I put together my favorite recipes, I don’t always have a clear sense of when to stop seasoning, stirring, tasting and revising. In fact, as a general rule, if I didn’t have a deadline or another story idea nagging at me, I’d probably keep working on a novel. Maybe forever. I’d probably still be revising that story I wrote in second grade. An inspired piece titled The Sloppy Man. Yes, it’s hard for me to leave my writing alone. This is one reason why an agent is good for me. Once I hand the story over to him, I can’t touch it. He knows me. He won’t let me near it. And I’m grateful for that.

So, when is a story done? When is it time to stop fussing with it? I read an interview a while back in which a writer was asked how he knows when one of his novels is finished. He replied that, for him, the project is complete when he can’t stand looking at it anymore. Okay, this I get. This is the nugget of wisdom that energizes me to hit send or to fire up ye ol’ printer and then slide my manuscript into an envelope.

Now, excuse me while I sprint out to our mailbox. I need to snatch my manuscript out of the hands of our mailman. I just thought of something else that I MUST change in my latest novel.


  1. The only way I can make myself be finished is by hitting "send." Then, I'll immediately open the file and try to look at my work, thinking, what will my editor/agent think when she reads this part? Then I find words I want to change. Then I become miserable and pathetic and don't sleep for weeks.

    This is why I hate writing.

  2. Oh yes, there is always something to change, fret about, lose sleep over, isn't there? When DOG GONE came out as a real book, I refused to read it, fearing that I'd find something else to fix. Sigh.

  3. Hi Cynthia!

    I was just browsing around the blueboards (I'm "writermama" over there) and thought I'd take a peek at your blog (and it's very nice!). I really enjoyed this post! It's kind of heartening to see that all writers (even those who are now published like yourself) go through the same kinds of anxieties. I agree that knowing when to let go and send a novel out is difficult. I think that's why I haven't started sending out queries yet! I really must impose some sort of deadline for myself, I think, or I could probably go on another year revising!

  4. Hi Crystal!
    Hurray for BB! And thank you for visiting my blog and posting a comment! Yes, unfortunately, I'm not sure certain anxieties ever really go away. Like knowing when to stop fussing with a story. At times I feel like I am so close to my work that I can't see it clearly. But this is all part of the fun, isn't it? : )