When is finished really finished, anyway?

A couple of days ago I wondered if displaying my work in progress was a good idea. Almost immediately, I began to wonder how much of my work was really in progress. (The truth: a lot of it.) Sometimes I write things and sit on them. Whenever I open up an old piece, I always find things about it that can be changed. I hear this isn’t uncommon, but I’m under the impression that most writers can at least find a certain amount of approval with a piece once they reach its end. For me, nothing ever feels finished, or at least good enough in its finished form.

How do you know when a piece really still needs work, and when you really just need to step away from it, and let it be whatever it’s become? Do I keep tinkering away because it really isn’t finished, or because I can’t stop editing and nitpicking what I’ve completed, and as a result remain perpetually dissatisfied?

There’s probably a little of both happening, but the nitpicking/editing-while-writing is easily among my most crippling tendencies. I won’t have anything to work with if I can’t stop hindering myself before I ever get it done. The editing can come after I have a complete product. I know this, but that doesn’t seem to change the habit.

I am getting better about it, though. Awareness of the problem helps tremendously. I guess we’ll see how much I improve over the next few weeks, as I work to reel it in.

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