How Do You Know Your Story (or Novel) Is Finished?

The question, really, is about revision. When do you know you’re finished revising and there is no more rewriting to do? I’ve heard authors answer that question in person and I’ve read about published authors answering that question. My favorite that I heard in person is “When it’s published, but even then………” I don’t remember who the author was, but I sure do remember the answer.

Here’s my favorite answer that I’ve read about:

Interviewer: How much rewriting do you do?

Hemingway: It depends. I rewrote the ending of Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, 39 times before I was satisfied.

Interviewer: Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?

Hemingway: Getting the words right.

(Ernest Hemingway, “The Art of Fiction,” The Paris Review Interview, 1956)

When I read that, what I wanted to know right away is, how did he keep track of how many times he rewrote it? He lived in the days before computers. I don’t know if he wrote longhand or used a typewriter or both, but in either case it seems problematic to keep track of that many revisions. And then I kept thinking about the number of times – 39. I don’t keep track of how many times I rewrite things, but even so I don’t think I’ve rewritten anything that many times.

Another way to look at the question of revision is – when can I let go of a story or chapter and not try to tinker with it or change any more words? Is there some magic thing that happens at that point? Is there an inner voice that tells you, “Yes, it’s finished, you’ve done the best that you can do with this, all the words are the right words.”

The question of revision is one thing I’ve been grappling with lately. Knowing when to stop tinkering, when I can let go, when it’s really finished. How about the rest of you writers out there? How do you know it’s finished?


About Vee

I'm a writer working on my fifth novel.
This entry was posted in author, literature, published, rewriting, Uncategorized, writer, writing. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to How Do You Know Your Story (or Novel) Is Finished?

  1. jkroyce says:

    The Supreme Court said about pornography, “I can’t describe it, but I’ll know it when I see it.” It’s something like that with writing. You may not be able to describe how you know you’re done, but, hopefully, you’ll sense it. I know I’m not there yet.

  2. A book is never finished, only published.

  3. victoriah4rt says:

    I was told that no matter how many times you revise your writing, it can always be improved. I do believe though, that there comes a point where you feel satisfied with it. Rather than pushing it too far and despising it or altering it completely, it’s safer to either put it in the drawer to look at in a years time, or submit it for editing.

    • Vee says:

      Yes, there is a point where you can push too far and even lose your original vision. Then for sure it’s better to put it aside for a while.

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