I too am never really finished with a work. Even now, when I give readings from my first novel, I change a word here, a word there. But those are just details. And I know I am finished with the latest novel.
I think my question was not so much about how to know I am finished as how to move on, how to grieve the loss, how to get one work out of my system and move into another. I think that time is the answer. Time and space and doing the things that feed me. Faith is the bigger answer.
Faith is a huge issue for me. Faith in what? I don’t know. When I am writing a novel it is because I have faith in my characters’ story. If I did not have that faith I would not be able to give it the long haul of attention it needs. I have faith in the process of writing. If I do not have the answers of how it all fits together now, they will come as I keep working. I have faith in that.
My last novel was a jigsaw puzzle of scattered pieces. It was like the idea of it was the border. I had the border, but I had to search for all the rest. I loved it. I had faith, but now that the work is done, and a new project has not shown itself to me, I have to have faith in the waiting, in the void, in the nothingness of not writing. I feel a little panic around that.
It used to be that I panicked at the thought of writing a novel. The process seemed too large for me to tackle. I looked too much at the big picture rather than the steps. I know now to break it down into bits, and that simply getting my character across the river, or across a room, is enough for one day. The next day I will get him to the next place he needs to be. Move it forward, day by day.
I have to laugh to myself, because as I write this I feel a surge of pride that I no longer panic at the thought of writing a novel. Now my panic is about not writing, so I suppose that’s a sign of emotional growth.
Perhaps I just need to learn that same sort of patience as I lay fallow. Perhaps I need to recognize that the problem of being fallow is as temporary as the problem of moving my character from point A to point B.