For many writers, the scariest part of the writing process is admitting that what you have been working on is done. This is where numerous fears and anxieties set in. What if people don’t like it? What if I’ve wasted time creating something no one will care about? What if they laugh at me?
These responses make it easy to procrastinate on moving on to the next stage in the process. If you’ve been in this situation, you know what I’m talking about. You make excuses to add more material to your draft.
You keep tinkering with sentences. Maybe when people ask how your project is going, you say, “Oh, I’m still working on it,” when you really mean that you haven’t opened the file in a week and the only thing you’ve finished is three true crime shows on Netflix.
When you get stuck in this thought trap, it can be difficult to blast through the insecurity you’re experiencing about showing your work to a wider audience, submitting it for publication, or sending out queries for a book.
This insecurity happens because we get so locked into our emotions that we can’t look at the objective facts of what we create. The problem is that most of the time, emotions don’t reflect reality. Creative artists are great at being so hypercritical that they declare that their work isn’t any good, only to be shocked when people tell them they love it.
Practically speaking, these self-critical emotions paralyze you and keep you from getting much work done on your writing.
So how do you reorient your mind to objectively look at your writing and realize that your story is finished?
Here are a few questions to consider.
Have You Told a Complete “Story?”
All pieces of writing have to be unified. Aristotle famously wrote about the unities of time, place, and action, and his ideas still hold up. A finished story includes elements that all work together to portray a character in conflict who changes due to their journey.
A finished story will include a fully-actualized character who experiences a meaningful resolution to their conflict due to a series of events that bring about change.
There will be no plot holes, gaps in the action, or easy fixes. Instead, the world of the story will feel natural and continuous.
This isn’t just true for fiction, by the way. If you’re writing a memoir, you still need to tell your completed story, giving readers enough detail and information for them to understand what you experienced and where you are in life now as a result.
If you’re going to share your work with a broader audience, all of these elements need to be in place.
Have You Helped Readers Understand Your Goal?
I use the term “goal” broadly here. Obviously, writing a story, memoir, or even a poem isn’t like writing an essay in your high school literature class, where you have a thesis statement that you intend to prove.
But no matter what you’re writing, you still have a goal. Maybe you have a particular emotion you hope to inspire in people who read your fiction. Perhaps you want to tell a story of redemption. If you’re writing nonfiction, maybe you want to inspire people to be resilient as a result of learning about how you’ve overcome obstacles.
Your ultimate goal, no matter what you are writing, is to create the best possible experience for your readers.
This is where sharing your work with a trusted writing ally or friend can be invaluable. Sometimes you are just too close to what you’re working on to see how well the experience you’re creating is executed. Getting feedback from someone else can help you know where you may need to fill in some gaps or reconsider elements of the story’s execution.
This brings us to the next point . . .
Have You Implemented Feedback from Trusted Readers?
It’s one thing to ask readers for their thoughts on your work, but implementing it is another story. Most people tend to find reworking their writing challenging and tedious.
Plus, it’s easy to push back on revising when you get feedback that your writing buddy says is necessary for improving your work but that you don’t agree with or don’t want to take action toward.
No, you are technically not obligated to accept every piece of feedback you get. But ignoring critical pieces of feedback that relate to the elements of unity and completeness we’ve already discussed can cause you to have substandard work. If that’s the case, you are probably not finished with your project.
Knowing how to take criticism is often a tough lesson, but you can’t let it get in the way of your project being the best it can be.
Have You Edited and Proofread Your Work?
This might seem kind of duh . . . but you can’t be finished with a piece of writing if it contains gratuitous grammar, spelling, and sentence structure problems.
Do not send work out to an agent, publisher, literary journal, or whomever your end audience is without proofreading your work.
My ultimate piece of advice? Read your work out loud.
Sure, you’ll probably feel stupid at first, and hearing your writing read out loud can sometimes be awkward. But I guarantee you that if you do this, you will catch the vast majority of errors in your work.
When you read out loud, you activate a different part of your brain than when you read silently. Sometimes, you can be so familiar with your writing that your brain automatically corrects errors. But when you read out loud, you see as well as hear the words, which gives you a greater chance of catching any problems.
Once you’ve done this, you’ll be a lot closer to having your writing project done.
And finally . . .
Do You Intuitively Feel That It’s Done?
I don’t want to sound all woo-hoo here, but sometimes you just know your writing project is finished.
This skill takes years to cultivate, but eventually, you get to know your process well enough and read enough good writing that you’re able to objectively assess that it is done.
Your writing buddies or friends who look at your work often confirm this realization.
Regardless of how you identify when your work is done, the revision process can be confusing and overwhelming.
That’s why I created the Revision Scorecard.
This free guide will walk you through the six most common errors in first drafts and let you rank where your work in progress falls in each category so you can focus on the most critical problem areas first.
No fumbling around try to fix 15 things at once. No putting off revision altogether because you have this sinking feeling that you don’t know what you’re doing.
Grab your free scorecard here and start getting to the finish line sooner.