It should be pretty easy to know when you are done writing a story. If you write chronologically, you're done when you get to the end. If you write scenes and then plug them in, you're done when all the scenes are written. Maybe you're a total seat-of-your-pants kind of writer. If that's the case, you know you're done when there just isn't anymore story to write.
When I finished my first draft, I knew it without a doubt when I was done. No questions about it. I typed the final words and stopped. What I had was rough, unedited and probably not very good (yet), but it was done.
Now that I'm editing, I'm suddenly struck with the realization that I don't know how I'll know that I'm done. I've been slowly going through each chapter. Removing weak spots, rewriting sloppy writing, filling in holes and all the things I know need to be done. But how will I know when I've done enough.
For example, this blessed first chapter just might kill me. I've edited this thing so many times I've lost track. Even as I move through the rest of my chapters, the first one keeps pulling me back in. And each time I read it, I find more things to change. A word here, a sentence there. I know it's better each time, but will it ever be good enough?
I've read enough cautionary tales to know that I'm not going to query until I think this piece is polished to perfection. But will I ever get to that point?
As is my practice when I am stumped by a writing question, I turned to the internet and found Diane Gaston. God bless her! Diane gave a couple of ways to create a stopping point for editing. She suggested limiting the number of revisions to three, or making a check-list. My favorite was to set a time deadline. Deadlines I can work with. They create a definite point of closure. Plus, I deal with them all the time in my day job.
So, I've created a deadline. I am currently considering attending DFWCON. The conference starts May 19th and, like most, offers the chance to pitch your work. So that's my new deadline. Even if I can't go (there's a potential scheduling conflict) I am committing to stop editing and start querying by that date. Of course, that gives me all kinds of butterflies and the likes. But that is why I am so grateful for Diane. This is what she wrote at the end of her blog:
Yeah, you say, that is all well and good, but how does this guarantee my manuscript is the best it can be?
It doesn’t guarantee anything, but, then, you will never know if your manuscript is the best it can be, even if you go through it ten times. No one ever knows, because expecting that kind of perfection is unrealistic. The question you should ask yourself is not if your manuscript is the best it can be, but if it is good enough for submission, if you’ve covered all the important elements, the ones on your checklist. If your answer is yes, stop editing and SEND IT IN.
Give the editor her turn to go through the manuscript. Even if she loves it, even if she buys it, she’ll suggest changes.
And you will have a chance to edit your manuscript all over again.