I really enjoyed this article in Forbes with various authors weighing in on when a story is finished. The writing part is pretty easy to figure out. You’ve completed everything you’ve set out to do, and you’ve typed THE END at the bottom of a very large document.
The revising part is far less concrete.
I love that Neil Gaiman‘s most common advice is to FINISH what you’re working on.
I love this because starting isn’t the hard part. Writing isn’t the hard part. Finishing is really freaking difficult.
“Whatever it takes to finish things, finish. You will learn more from a glorious failure than you ever will from something you never finished.”
So. How do I know this is done-done, and not just sorta-kinda-done?
For me, the measurement is that it can stand on its own without my holding its hand. I don’t have to explain backstory, or promise a better ending verbally to my readers. I don’t have to explain “Where I wanted it to go”. It goes there. All by itself. It’s a toddler that can wander off without me. It lives up to what I hoped it would be, but it’s also its own little unit, able to make weird decisions all on its own.
Honestly, I don’t know that it’s done, not really. But I’m writing something new now, and I’m calling Salvaged done.
My favorite quote from that article is from Sarah Pinborough:
“I find the best way to get over wanting to keep working at a book is to remember that there are whole untold stories on either side of the part you’ve written — the before and after the book in your created world. A story can never be fully told. You just have to be happy with the bit you’ve chosen to share.”