When is it done?

Our topic this week is “When is it done?” Or in other words, when is the thing you’re writing ready to be sent out into the world.

Can I just say: I feel completely ill-equipped to talk about this subject. Quite simply, I don’t know the answer.

I once heard Kevin McIlvoy speak on revisions, and he talked about revising a story 48 times and having it published and then revising it some more even after it was published because for him it wasn’t done yet. And, man, do I get that. I can stay in revisions forever, finding a better word, a better sentence structure, something more authentic or punchier or compelling.

But then…

I recently heard James A. Owen address revisions. His advice was to stop revising when you’re just making changes to make changes. In his words, endless revisions is like riding twenty miles on an exercise bike and getting nowhere. And I totally get that, too. Sometimes endless revisions is a way of hiding. It’s not done yet, so I don’t have to show it to anyone and face possible rejection.

If only there was some kind of recipe or formula. Maybe something like:

X words × Y drafts ÷ Z minutes = Done

(I never was that good at math.)

Does it depend on the project? In my experience, there are stories that race out of my brain almost complete. They require little revision. And there are stories that feel like pulling deep-rooted teeth and require many drafts before they’re even coherent. Both kinds of stories get rejected. Both get published. Revision seems to have little to do with it.

Is it done when there’s nothing left to change? I recently read a well-published novel that had several glaring copyediting errors. Was it not done yet?

So, because I have more questions than answers, and because this is something I wonder about and wrestle with, I’d like to hear from you.

When is it done?