In the movie Pollock, abstract expressionist artist Jackson Pollock (played by Ed Harris) is asked:
"How do you know when you're finished with a painting?"
Pollock answers: "How do you know when you're finished making love?"
So, as a writer, how do you know when you're finished with a writing project?
Copy and content writers know we are finished when the deadline arrives. We could always tweak and adjust, but when deadline arrives, we have to hand it over.
Beyond that obvious stopping point, for me there comes a point when I'm just making tiny edits and I have to tell myself to stop.
It's never going to be perfect (whatever that is).
And that my edits are not making a difference in how the piece will perform with the target audience.
And if it doesn't get done, it can't go to work.
I have a friend who says, she's done when the editor says she's done.
Another says, "When it is placed in the client's hand and you no longer own it."
Writing instructor Gary Provost offered: "How do you know when you have finished? Look at the last sentence and ask yourself, 'What does the reader lose if you cross it out?' If the answer is 'nothing' or 'I don't know,' then cross it out. Do the same thing with the next to last sentence, and so forth."
Some other writers offer their thoughts about knowing when you are finished:
“When you’ve taken out all the boring bits.” - Robert J. Sawyer
"The writing begins only when you're finished. Only then do you know what you are trying to say." - Mark Twain
“I would say that a piece is finished when I can no longer find any faults or flaws in it. Unfortunately, that is rare." - Waverly Fitzgerald
“Writers often torture themselves trying to get the words right. Sometimes you must lower your expectations and just finish it.” - Don Roff
"The hardest lesson to learn as a writer is when work is finished. It's all too easy to go round and round, polishing until there is nothing left. Know when to quit. Deadlines are your friend. A hard stop keeps you honest. And sane." - Alastair Dickie
"I could go back and review it line by line again. I’m sure I would find something, some sentence to improve, some image to add. But at some point I have to cut it off and the prospect of opening it and going through it again might just send me around the bend." - Jennifer Ellis
“It’s finished when it’s finished.” - Priscilla Long
"Often I don’t know when a piece is finished. Knowing when to stop is one of the most difficult judgment calls a creative person is called to make." - Elizabeth Langer
"At some point in the exploration or polishing, we’ve said all that we have to say—and that pause in the conversation tells me it’s ready to send out. The dialog might start up again in the future, but for now, it’s finished.” - Joannie Stangeland
"An artist never really finishes his work, he merely abandons it." - Paul Valery
“Any work is always improvable, you cannot really finish the work, you can only abandon it out of tiredness or incompetence.” - Amit Kalantri
"The problem most writers have with finishing work is that they rely on pure rational will and aggressive determination to get the job done. When they feel themselves flagging in their efforts they whip themselves even harder, driving the writing on until it’s done. This causes tension in the body and a forced stiltedness in the work.
“Creative work is not a mechanical cog that can be turned out ever faster on an assembly line. Creative work is a living, breathing, organic collection of energy. It’s like fruit on a tree. Every piece of fruit ripens in its own time, and its ripeness corresponds to the current season in perfect harmony. Instead of ripping green apples off the tree and pounding them into applesauce anyway, writers would do much better to practice the art of patience and leave the fruit alone until it is ready to be picked.” - Lauren Sapala
Think about it. How do you know when you are done with a writing assignment? And while you let that rattle around in your brain, I'll close things out with a poem by Arnie Reisman
In the Home of a Poem
This poem is not finished
As long as it sits in an open space
as long as words can be placed and replaced
as long as punctuation can be ordered overnight
as long as I am still alive
Anymore than a house designed
by Frank Lloyd Wright was finished
Once sold, story goes,
the architect demanded his own set of keys
to make surprise visits
to chastise choices of paint
to rearrange furniture
to explain what works on walls
When he died, the house finally breathed
and became a home
Oscar Wilde exercised his commas like small dogs,
taking them out, bringing them in again
A raven cawed more tunefully than a crow
If it hadn’t, its master would have been
simply Ed Poe
So I continue to make my visits of inspection
reupholstering the lines
rearranging to achieve feng shui
until the day
when finally what’s removed is me
Then this poem will receive
a certificate of occupancy