Good Question: How can I tell when a piece of writing is “done?”

Dear Alex,

How can I tell when a piece of writing is “done” and ready to go out into the world?

I’m a perfectionist and feel the need to go over the thing again and again!


Dear Shantini,

When I was 20 years old, I decided to shave my head.

(You might be thinking, Um, excuse me? What does your hair have to do with my writing? But bear with me.)

Shaving my head felt liberating, and for many years, I kept my hair cropped short & pixie-like.

Then, I decided to start growing it out.

As my hair grew, little by little, I got excited about all of the different styles that I could try.

I could… blow dry my hair straight! Braid it! Do a French twist! Pig tails! Pony tails! The possibilities were endless!

Except, there was just one problem.

Whenever I’d attempt a glamorous new hairstyle, I’d stare at my reflection in the mirror and go:

“Huh. That does NOT look the way I’d imagined it in my mind. In fact, it looks kinda terrible. Damn it!”

I’d get frustrated and annoyed. But I kept practicing. And… slowly, over time, I got much, much better at styling my hair.

These days, I can whip my locks into a look that rivals that best hair salons in town.

But for a long time, I couldn’t.

Because I wasn’t good at it. Yet.

Here’s the reason I’m telling you this story:

When people ask me questions like:

“How can I tell when a piece of writing is done?”

Often, what they’re really asking me is:

“Why doesn’t my writing look & sound the way I want it to?

It makes sense in my head… but it’s not translating onto the page.

So I keep fussing and fussing, trying to make it better, and it’s annoying.”

My advice? Keep fussing.

That’s how you practice. That’s how you learn. That’s how you create your voice. That’s how you get better.

(If you’re curious: I revise my blog posts anywhere from 8 – 32 times each before I post them — my blogging software keeps track, so that’s how I know. I fine-tuned this particular advice column 22 times before publishing.)

Now… when I say “keep fussing”, I obviously don’t mean, “forever”.

If you have perfectionistic tendencies, you might want to assign yourself a time limit — say, five minutes per email, or sixty minutes per blog post — to prevent yourself from going bonkers. Choose whatever time frame feels sane and reasonable to you, and don’t punish yourself if you wind up going “over”. It’s just a guideline.

But once your time is up, ask yourself:

“Is this thing that I’ve just written going to uplift, energize, inspire, educate or entertain… someone? Anyone? Even just one person?”

If the answer is “Yes!” or even “Probably and I sure hope so!” … then you’re DONE.

Keep practicing & keep refining, within reason.

And congratulate yourself for caring so damn much.

Your drive to “make it better” is a good thing.

And in the end?

That drive… that devotion… that pull towards excellence…

That’s the fire that will help you become the kind of writer that you want to be.

“The way anything is developed is through practice practice practice practice practice practice practice practice practice and more practice.” –Joyce Meyer

How do YOU decide when your work is “ready” to go out into the world?