Works in progress – or how do you know when a poem is finished? #prose4t #whatimwriting #amwriting

Last year I did an exercise for my experimental writing class that turned into a poem. I posted each stage of the work on the blog, and there were probably seven iterations just at that time. Since then I’ve revised it, read it to my writing group, submitted it to a competition, revised it, read it out loud, and done a very different version inspired by a call out that wanted poems of 14 lines or less. I think I thought I’d finished it last year, but I obviously hadn’t.

I wrote a novel a few years back, finished it and everything. I printed out a few copies, got people to read it, made amendments, sent it to agents and even had a request for the whole thing. But that all took time, and during that time something was niggling at me. The story wasn’t finished. What I’d thought was the whole story wasn’t at all – the interesting stuff kicked off where I’d wrapped it all up. How do I know that? I gave myself permission to just keep writing, and writing, and writing. The characters I created developed a life of their own. What I thought was a nice, neat finished novel is now a messy splurge. What was fluffy chick lit with a happy ever after ending is now darker. The story is now more compelling, but the whole thing is unfinished, a sprawling mass of words, with some repetition where I’ve tried more than one approach to the same storyline. (And I feel a sense of relief that the agent said no!)

The longer I write the more I have these messy, unfinished projects, the greater the number of poems that could become something else. And they take up a tiny part of my brain all the time. I’m working on a different novel now, but at some point I want to revisit the first one and wrangle with it once more until the story starts and ends in a place that compels others to read it all through. I’m just not sure how to find time to do that, or whether I have to let it go and say it was a learning experience – which it was – and it’s a novel that’s not going to be published, and just move on.

What do you do – how do you know when something is done? Do you have projects that you can discard? And do you find it easy to find an end for your work?