How do you know when an essay is done?
Posted by
I just started writing essays this past year and a half. I started writing them more for myself, rants,digressions and arguments with people whose opinionsĀ I disagreed with. I just never know how to wrap them up, therefore I never get to editing. I tried editing what I had before but would end up re-writing what I was editing and never finishing it! I'm far from ever showing anyone these rambles but how do you know when and where to stop?
  • I just attended a writer's retreat led by Kim Stafford, the son of the prolific poet William Stafford, and he addressed this topic. Quoting his father, Kim said, you know when to stop revising when "it no longer feels like the experience of creation." Now, that's good advice, don't you think. Kim
  • I don't think if I actually got an essay done I'd try to get it published, I know it's contrary to what most essay writers want. I think I got stuck in poetry mode, where you try to get your point or feelings across using words economically. I think that's my problem, once I decided I was going to write an essay ( other than the awful forced ones in college) I got overwhemed by not having a personal "limit" and not knowing how to put it all together without rambling.
  • I don't know if this is helpful, but the "over stuffed suitcase" metaphor caught my eye. Sometimes to ease the pain of editing, I put all the stuff from the essay that I need to cut in another document "to save it for later". That kind of eases the pain of cutting stuff I think is brilliant at the time. This technique could help you unpack your suitcase.
  • I say that one of the hardest things for an essayist to know is "when it's done." We toil over it, overwork it, beat it up, curse it out, and still we hang on to it. The thing I suggest to my essay students is to let go of perfect. There is no perfect in essay because what we write perfectly today might be a whole different story in a year. So try this: when it is just about there, let it go. Really. I have had only a couple of essays that I have hung on to and tried to keep reworking. The more I fuss over them, the less pulled together they seem. The less voice they have. The just aren't me. If you know your voice, and how to tell a story in your voice, then be true to that. Tell it. Reread it out loud. Fix it once and let it go. Remember the beauty of essays is that they are just stories. You can tell it another way in another essay whenever you want to, or whenever you know better. This might sound tough but the real way you know when its done is when somebody wants to publish it. Andrea
  • That is a really great way of looking at and thinking about it. As soon as I have a chance to sit down with some essays I've written I'm going to look at them in terms of that. Also it's helpful for me because I tutor at a college writing center once in awhile. It should work great with the students who feel more comfortable in math than english. Thanks for sharing!
  • You are done when what I call your "writing math" adds up. Every piece is an argument, even if it is merely that life is really hard unless you have a good cart to love. Your writing math is the 2+2+2=6 of that sentence, that argument. I write and publish a lot of essays, and this writing math concept has gotten me through some real doozies in terms of knowing when I'm done. You must first have that one sentence argument figured out, the answer to the question, "What is this about?" Once you can answer that in one sentence, you know what the piece must do. Then you do your math, and voila!
  • i cry but not because it's done,lol. I'm going to try outlining and sticking to it. I'm A.D.D and I know thats part of the problem. I'm thinking if I start outlining again (i hate doing that) if I find another topic within the topic I'm outlining I can just write it down elsewhere. You ladies should see the piles of paper I have of unfinished essays I have,not mention the idea papers and random papers with one or two sentences written down. Organization is my downfall, I'm starting to see.