When is it finished?
Feb 11, 2014
“Just one more thing…”
You’ve spent months writing and preparing your book to be finished. It seems every time you look at it, you find a new thing to change, a sentence to reword, a new paragraph to include, and now that you think about it…
At some point, you have to call your book done. But how do you know if the changes you’re making are valid, or if you’re delaying to call your book done? Ask yourself some questions:
1) Are there any more grammar or spelling errors, or is there a major issue? Misspellings, referencing wrong page numbers, incorrect citations, photos on the wrong page…those are the sort of issues you of course want to be fixed.
2) Does this word change really make a difference? If you feel the need to reword your sentences, ask if it’s really helping to clarify what you intended, or if you’re just looking for that perfect word that “sounds right”?
3) Do you have to add more content? Only add text that needs to be there to further your purpose or clarify. Make sure you’re not just looking for something to do.
So why do people get trapped in a cycle of constant editing and miniscule tweaking? Here’s two common reasons:
Fear of the aftermath. You might be worried about what will happen after the book is finished—what if you don’t sell a single copy? Or someone doesn’t like it? Or they find mistakes you’ve somehow missed? It’s easy to avoid dealing with these possibilities if you never finish your book.
Obsession with perfection. You’ve spent a lot of time on your book, so of course you want it to come out good! But perfection is a lot to strive for, and impossible to achieve. Your book can be good, and you might even make it great, but it will never be perfect. Wouldn’t you rather have a finished book than a never-ending project of corrections?
So what do you do? Accept that your book will never be perfect and be ready for whatever may happen. Embrace it. One person may not like your book—but maybe more people will! You’ll never know if you don’t finish. For authors looking to make multiple books, the sooner you finish this project, the sooner you can work on a new one. You’ll create better work through trial and error of producing more, not obsessing over the outcome of one book.
But what if your book has a mistake?
You can fix it in another edition. Or not, if it isn’t worth the trouble. Now that it’s been done and printed, you might realize those little things aren’t as big a deal as you thought. So don’t sweat it.
And what if someone doesn’t like it?
You can’t please everyone! But that doesn’t mean no one will like it.
What if no one buys it?
Who cares? Didn’t you write it for yourself anyway—to get that story out of your head? If you wrote it hoping to be a best-seller and make millions, that was probably your biggest mistake. Besides, even if it fails, at least you’ve learned what not to do…so next time you’ll do better!
What if it’s not perfect?
That’s perfectly fine. You pay attention to a lot more details than the average reader because you’re looking for things to find. But the majority of readers won’t be! A lot things you worry about might not even be worth the effort you’re stressing on them. Don’t completely exhaust your attention over details no one else will bother to look at.
When I attended art school, teachers were quick to tell us we needed to meet our deadlines and move on. Why? If we didn’t take deadlines seriously, many people always came in with “unfinished” work and found themselves trapped in a cycle of countless hours re-doing or fixing “mistakes.” People who did this ultimately produced less work and improved a lot less quickly.
It’s true we learn from our mistakes, but you have to let mistakes happen in order to try again. If you spend countless hours toiling over perfecting one single project, when the next one begins, will you even remember what your mistakes were or why they mattered? Chances are you won’t. Why did you change that word five times? Or keep changing the design of that bullet point twenty times? The thing you want to remember when your book is done is the magic you had in making it, not the intense stress over perfecting it. So let it go, be flexible, and embrace your mistakes.
After all, you’ve got a lot more stories to tell, don’t you?