How do you know when it’s ready?

So you’ve created a masterpiece. It’s a beautiful, inspiring piece of work held together with the most delicate of words. But is it ready for publication? How do you know where the fine line between final draft and ready to submit is at?

This is one of the things that I struggle with most in my writing. I have poems or short stories that have been published that I go back and look at and think, ‘Oh my God! This is awful!’ I whip out my red pen and then remember this is a published item.

I am notoriously bad about not knowing when a piece of work is finished. For example my poem, Onus, was written almost entirely in one swoop. It went through two drafts and then was done. Part of that was timing, the magazine I wanted to submit it to had a close deadline and I wanted to make it. Part of it was that the poem felt whole. However, I still fight with the final line of the poem. Every time I look at it I want to change it, but I don’t.

So here is what I have started to do as my way of trying to determine if something is ready. Note, I do still really struggle with this, so please offer any and all suggestions you have.

1) Once you have finished something, put it away for a day minimum.

          Yep, put that shiny new piece of writing away and don’t look at it for a day at least. Start on a new project, take a walk, walk to a friend, go out to dinner, watch a movie, do anything else. This will help with the editing process because sometimes you have to step back from the work to better understand it.

2) Find a revision buddy

          Find someone who you respect and have them look over your poems. No, you don’t always have to take their suggestions, but an outside opinion can really help. Just make sure it isn’t someone who always says, ‘OMG this is so perfect! It’s awesome! Mail it to the President!’ because that kind of advice isn’t going to get you far.

3) Read, read, read the work.

          This is how I have found that I am done with a piece of writing. If I can read through it and not cringe or want to change some aspect of it right away then it is at least very close to done. Read it over, and over. Read it until you have it mostly memorized. Read it until you can edit it in your head because you know it so well.

4) Find the pinnacle of where you want to be published.

          READ ALL THE WORK FROM THERE YOU CAN FIND. Seriously. Read it. Then honestly compare your work to what is in there. Hold a copy of your work up to it. Does it fit in? Would it fall in seamlessly or does it look like a one-legged toothless hobo that snuck in the backdoor? Be honest with yourself. Get others opinions.

5) Submit.

         Sometimes the best way to know if a work is ready is to submit it. Find where you think it would be a great fit and send it off. If it’s rejected then it might need more work, or maybe a different market. Sometimes the rejection may come with comments that can help steer you in a new editing direction. Regardless, if a piece is rejected you keep submitting and keep writing. That’s what writers have to do.

Please, please share your own advice/what you do because this really is something I struggle with a lot with my own work.



  1. Eric Said:

    You’re right, Judy… I think one of the hardest aspects of creative writing is learning to NOT keep making changes.

    I’ve always got a few things floating around that haven’t gotten ‘finished’ enough for me.

    Sometimes it’s just me being overly critical, other times it’s just that I don’t feel I’ve gotten what I was hoping to convey quite right yet.

    At least I don’t have to worry about rejection, since I basically write for myself and not for submission purposes. (Not counting my submissions for memes, etc)

    • Judy Black Said:

      Yes, knowing when to stop editing is a HUGE challenge. At some point you do need to stop and declare something finished but that is a huge challenege. I think we are ouw own biggest critics because we know exactly what we’re trying to convey and get frustrated that it’s not as clear in writing as it is in our heads.

  2. All of this is precisely what I tell aspiring writers. Particularly the part about letting a work sit for awhile – you come back with fresh eyes, and can really see what works and what doesn’t.

    • Judy Black Said:

      Yeah, I think letting a work sit alone for a while is a great way to really see it clearly. It also helps if you go and work on something else instead of sitting and stewing about it, you need to leave it alone and let it marinate.

  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Randall Weiss, Judy Black. Judy Black said: How do you know when it's ready?: #writing #editing #Mondaymention Seriously, how do you know when a piece is done? […]

  4. Draven Ames Said:

    I absolutely adore your list. This is exactly what I go through. I think you have it down, Judy.

    • Judy Black Said:

      Glad to know I’m not alone in this process. This is one of the biggest challeneges I have with writing is that knowing when something is ‘ready.’ But I think that’s also a good trait. I know that what I write isn’t perfect the second I finish writing it, it needs revision and reworking to reach its ideal form.

  5. amyjosprague Said:

    this is great. I really admire your FOCUS and how you took your time with it.

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