How do you know when you're done?

This is a question I’m asked frequently by my students, and I wish I had a clear-cut answer. Having an agent is a huge help in this respect because I’m done when Paula says I’m done. But how do I know I’m done enough to send it to Paula?  I have two indicators: When I reach a point when I can read through the manuscript and have nothing else to add. When I begin daydreaming about a different story. That’s usually a sign that my mind has moved on. For further insights, I asked my fellow Miss Demeanors for their thoughts and this is how they replied: Tracee: I’m done when the deadline hits (well, really once the final round of edits are finished, but those have a deadline as well…. ). That’s when the manuscript gets pulled from my fingers. Of course that kind of deadline is for work that will be published – it’s due! I’ve written many full length manuscripts that I’ve never submitted for publication. Those were also ‘completed’ but it is trickier because you can keep on and on and on editing. I’ve always stopped when I felt it was good enough for a professional to view (although that would probably mean an agent which would likely mean a few more edits before submission.). I’ve always liked to ‘finish’ things. It will never be perfect but more time won’t necessarily make it so. And that applies to most anything. Paula:Ha! With my deadline looming on April 1, I’ll be done when it’s April 1. Until I get notes from my editor. In truth, the work is never really done.  Robin: I know I’m done when Paula says I’m done 🙂 My non-fiction and journalism work has all been under deadline so the date played a major part but I stopped tinkering when beta readers previously unfamiliar with the subject matter understood the points I endeavored to make and found the message delivery entertaining. I’m looking forward to fiction deadlines when I can say the same. Michele: The same way I know when I’m done with a recipe, or a garden. When one more ingredient, plant, or word would detract from the work done. Knowing what’s enough doesn’t come easy. Alexia: I’m done at some obscene hour of the morning on the date of the deadline for the final round of edits. Even then, in my head I’m not really done. The nagging thought, “Oh, I should have…,” is ever present, circling like a hungry wolf. Or laughing hyena.
Cate: Since I write standalone novels, I know it’s done when my protagonist’s arc feels complete. She or he has solved the mystery and the character has grown in some way. Then, I give it a few weeks and read it with fresh eyes, and if it still feels done, it’s done…. At least until my editor tells me I have to change it up. 🙂 

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