Michelangelo is quoted as saying that a work of art is never finished, merely abandoned.
But there are degrees of doneness and the trick is to know when to let go and when to go back and make improvements. And yet, at some point you have to call a project “done.”
Last year I completed my novel, The Smallest Thing. It went through many drafts of full and partial rewrites, including a couple with a story development editor, two rounds of Beta readers, and the sharp and unforgiving eye of a line editor. I was very proud to be able to send the book out into the world.
And yet, already I feel as if I’ve outgrown that project. I’m constantly working on my craft—through seminars, books, and workshops, as well as hours logged “practicing” putting words on a page—and I know I’m a more mature writer now than I was a year ago. It’s so tempting to go back into the book and make improvements.
Writers are our own worst critics and I know I am capable of tinkering with that book for the rest of my life. I know because I’m still tinkering with the first novel I ever wrote, still knowing it can be the book I first envisioned. But this time I’m resisting.
My book is out looking for an agent and I’ll know soon enough what work still needs to be done, because there will always be work that needs to be done. I think the answer to knowing when a book is truly done is this: When you sign off on the final print proof and relinquish your right to keep tinkering with it.
So for now, I’m moving forward with my next project and, for the time being, I’m calling The Smallest Thing finished.