I recently wrote a 3-part blog post for WordsinSync on the subject of finishing your writing (“So You Think You’re Finished? Think Again.” See http://wordsinsync.blogspot.com/search?q=soules, at least for as long as it’s available). It’s part of my continuous effort to find ways to know that you’re finished with a particular piece of writing. The difference between finishing a piece and just stopping is huge because what every writer wants is a polished piece that feels “right,” not a piece where you’ve simply run out of gas. It’s part of why I have my page of “Poem Tips,” a page I tweak and add to regularly.
I think often about Isaac Babel, the great Russian writer. His biographer said that when he couldn’t sleep, he would get up in the night and work on his current writing, cutting out words “with glee.” Babel is reported to have said that you knew you were finished when you’d taken out everything that didn’t belong. This is basically the same concept that was reportedly spoken by Michelangelo who said he didn’t carve the marble, but released what was in it.
I feel irritated when I read one of my poems or pieces of prose some time after I thought I was finished only to discover that it requires more editing. I expect the struggle to know that I’m finished will go on for the rest of my writing life, but there are times when I feel more sure that I’ve reached a finished state than others. Greater clarity on this issue would be welcome.