The elusive moment of feeling a written work is finished

I’ve talked with other writers, read their blogs, and many say that when it comes to editing their work, they’re never done.  I agree, I can’t ever seem to open a piece of my own work and not make some kind of change, until it happened.

I wrote a short story during the last ice age.  Since then it’s been sitting around, occasionally taken out, dusted off, and tinkered with, only to be put back.  I would always feel as if it wasn’t quite finished, that the voice of the character was not consistent from start to finish.  Or critiques showed readers were confused where I thought clarity reigned supreme.   At the beginning of summer I told myself to finish it once and for all and send it off.  You know, just do it.  I did make changes, and then, nothing.  I felt as if I’d read this story enough, too much even, and kept ignoring it on my list of recently worked titles.

The other day something different happened.  I opened up the document, swallowed my previous notions with a figurative vitamin C, for clarity, and made cuts.  After, I slipped into the character and wrote a little more.  The additions were small, maybe four lines total, but they were striking enough to send chills down my arms.  I rushed to save the piece, and closed it before I messed it up.  Less is more in my book, especially with a short story.  I hadn’t read it through, but I was certain if I changed one more thing I’d jinx it.  I considered the idea of a jinx to be a little over the top, so I swapped it out for one along the lines of the story needing to rest, like dough for yeast bread.  (Yes, I recognize that I need to get out more.)

Thursday I printed it out for writers group, still unread, arrived and promptly decided I wasn’t going to read it.  Thankfully it was an unusual evening, a new member read some striking poetry that kicked me into action.  If she can be brave and read poetry, which is so much more personal somehow, I think, then I can read this story for the umpteenth time.  I did, and it felt, right.  I used to get that feeling with college essays, that sweet, inner surety that clearly said, ‘this baby can be put to bed’.

I looked around the table at the others and their faces reflected the story.  I quieted the excited cheer rousing in my head, and waited for their words.  I’m happy to say the audience was moved, and today I’m going to the post office to mail it off to my favorite literary magazine.  My mind is changed, that moment of feeling a piece is finished can happen.  Excuse me while I kiss the sky.

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7 thoughts on “The elusive moment of feeling a written work is finished

  1. Kliban Katz

    I know how you feel! It can be very difficult to know when a piece is “finished.” I’m convinced that they’re never actually finished. We only come closer and closer to zero, but we never quite touch it. Eventually we get close enough and we say it’s done. There is a certain beauty in imperfection; it mirrors the human spirit.

    Reply
    1. serenitywriter Post author

      🙂 Thank you. That reminds me of a potter who made such perfect pieces, in a contest, the judges suspected the items were machine made. After that, the potter always added a small fingerprint on the underside to prove it was handmade.

      Reply
  2. Laura Best

    A wonderful post, Jess. Reading our own work to others isn’t always easy. I know what you mean, though, when you say, “It felt right.” Congrats on getting your story sent out. 🙂

    Reply
  3. JAHirsch

    An immensely impressive achievement. I have to say, that feeling has always been illusive for me. It is so refreshing to hear that it can actually happen. Congratulations and I hope you hear good news back from the literary magazine!

    Reply

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