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Don't stop till you get enough: on knowing when you're done

Finish the damn thing. Observant readers will remember that that's my objective for the last quarter of this year. A lofty ideal! And also about time.... I have been with this book (or this ridiculous ambitious project posing as a book) for over 7 years. I'm on my third draft. I know it front and back. But mostly, every conversation I have about my book somehow leads to people suggesting I may be too perfectionistic and I need to let it go.

Let it go?

I'm not perfectionistic. Well, probably I am but I don't think that's why I'm still with this book. It just isn't yet done. I know I have to get it to the best possible version I can get it to before trying to send it out to agents, publishers. I can't submit a manuscript that I know still needs work. So no, it isn't yet ready to be let go.

But how do you know when it's done?

The strange case of the multiplying backlog

My first answer to that question was to identify all that needed to be done and then work through all the bigger tasks. So basically: make sure all the plots tie together, that the arcs work, that the main character has the biggest voice, that all the dates and times and other stuff click together. Seemed quite clear. But somehow my backlog then took on a Hydra-of-Lerna-like tendency: for every task I finished, two new ones seemed to sprout. Work in something in one chapter and three other chapters need revision as well. Change one small description of a character and the whole arc (actually all place where a character appears) has to be checked for consistency.

It's only now, after a week of hard work in Ireland, that I gradually reach the smaller stuff.

To put it in musical terms, I've finally reached the stage where I no longer add or remove instruments or write new parts of the song, but where I concern myself with the mix and how loud or soft certain instruments should sound. The arrangement, if you will.

But how do you know when it's done?

Let it go!

It's like the further I come, the harder it is to decide if a text or a chapter has been improved enough to count as done. Writers often are 'blind' to their own text and I think I may be getting a bit hearing-impaired to my 'final mix'. It's difficult to tell if the adjustment is big enough, small enough... What I'll be needing soon is that person that writers somehow very technically call a 'beta-reader' - someone who reads through the whole thing and lets me know what they think.

But how do you know you've got something ready for beta-read?

I guess I'll just have to trust I'll know when I'm done. Or, you know, have some folks tell me I'm being too perfectionist and need to let it go ;-)

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