A friend of mine is working on a book of poetry. The other day, he sent me an email with this question: “I’m nearly finished with my book but I’m struggling with when to stop doing rewrites and edits and just call it complete. Any advice on when to stop editing? I feel like I could keep rewriting and I feel like I might be getting in my own way.”
Here was my response:
I’m a firm believer that a piece of writing is never “done.” (This isn’t an original thought, either.)
I believe it was Oscar Wilde who said, “I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again.”
If that sounds familiar—if you’re debating comma placement—you’re probably “done.” At least for now. Getting an objective third party—someone who doesn’t know you, and someone who DOES know poetry—to review your work and provide feedback is probably a good next step.
(Edited to add: this would apply to fiction and nonfiction as well.)