When Is It Complete?

I’ve noticed, increasingly as of late, a fair amount of articles aimed to answer one of the toughest questions a writer can face: How do you know your novel is finally done? The short answer is, probably never, but the truth is, ask any author and the long answer is, it’s complicated, and it depends on the book. In an ideal world, once you write the words The End, this would in fact be the end of your novel, and all the work you would need to say that your novel was complete. But nothing could be further from the truth. Novels take a great deal of work, in editing, rewriting, re-editing. It can take dozens of drafts (not simply the 3 that High School English classes would have you believe), and even then, you may never feel that it’s actually done.

I’ve struggled to learn to let go of the attempt at ‘perfection’ and over the course of my writing career this has been the longest and most exhausting struggle. Perfection is a mythology created by anxiety to convince you that you truly aren’t good enough. But who gets to decide who is and isn’t good enough? I don’t wish to decry any author as good or bad, because honestly this is only a matter of opinion; there are many authors who I just do not care for, who are wildly popular. There are books that I couldn’t get into that are best sellers and cultural phenomenon. I love Harry Potter, my friends love it, frankly most people I know love it, but there are people out there, people I’ve met and talked to, who could never get into it. And I was almost one of them. The difference between liking something and not liking something is just kinda random.

The point is that art is subjective, and not everyone is going to like what you do. It can be hard not to take it personally, our art is something we feel a great emotional connection to. It’s something we’ve likely spent years on, it’s a deep and spiritual connection.

So when is it done? I wish I could tell you. The truth is, like most things there isn’t an easy answer, nor is there necessarily one that’s going to be satisfactory to everyone. Writing is a complex and personal process that requires each person to decide for themselves when it’s complete. There isn’t a universal because writing isn’t a universal, one size fits all endeavor. I’d like to think that my story is complete, at least until an agent/editor suggests changes, but I’m sure there is always going to be something I second guess and wonder if I couldn’t have done it better another way.

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