Sorry for all of you who automatically get a Whitney Houston song in your head with that title, me included. I tweeted an article about letting your writing ripen and since I just finished the rough draft of my Work In Progress about a month ago this is on my mind a lot.
I eschew an unripe book. I've been delving into the world of cheap ebooks this year and while there have been some gems I've had several that I was underwhelmed with and with all of my soul I do not want to release a half baked book.
In thinking about the idea of finishing in general though, many fields have a hard time knowing when something is "done." A lot of things have a certain art or a level of taste that makes it hard to know what done will look like. Something the creator hopes they will feel. If it was a cake a timer would go off to tell you it's ready for the world at large.
Another example: corporate reports -- not necessarily the height of creativity but then they are likely finished by deadline not by a boss who has finessed it to his or her heart's content. Seems like the deadline comes and you give it in as good as you can get it. Working in newspaper was a lot like that. My articles were not fine art, but they were as good as I could get in the time allowed.
What else is hard to know when it's done? Wine? I'm not a connoisseur, but I know if it goes the wrong way you get something more akin to vinegar. Timing is appropriate. Obviously paintings -- it's in the eye of the creator, right? Who has ever been to a modern art gallery and thought: wonder if that was all they meant to put up there? Home decor - a favorite of mine, but have you ever been in someone's house who seemed to go a little too far with say baby photos or ducks or (fill in the blank)? For them it seemed just right. For the visitor, a bit much.
An infamous George Lucas quote goes: A movie is never finished only abandoned. It's hard for a producer, a director, or an editor to find something done and beyond one more tweak. Never mind getting all three to agree it's 100 percent perfect. At some point you gotta stick a fork in it and call it done.
So how will I know my book Nosy Neighbors is ready for the world? I did a lot of prep work that was new for me, plotting my book before I wrote it as well as modifying this structure while I wrote during the last year. I will follow all the good advice I know and have test readers, editors etc and hope someone stops me if I'm not there yet. But I will stick a fork in it and let it come to the world.
I am related to computer programmers. I know they hate, hate having to fix or find code problems, but what I do envy them is that they know when they run the test - either the program works or it doesn't -- but then there's the "bugs." Maybe no one is safe.