“I find that it takes a lot of years of living, and many more of reckoning, to come up with one worthwhile paragraph. And when a deadline looms, prayer doesn’t hurt, either.” Carmen Agra Deedy
I respect many newspaper reporters because they work on tight deadlines. We can all make a story better in three days or three weeks, but what if you have only three hours? And what if you are working on several stories at once? With a close deadline we must set aside our desire for perfection and get our writing out the door. There is nothing more important than meeting deadlines.
There’s another side to this: the lack of a deadline. When I am working on spec (internal link) there’s no fixed deadline. It’s up to me. The editor may know I am working on an article but unlike an assignment, I control when the piece is sent in.
The danger here is that one can collapse into endlessly editing. How much extra work will make something better? If you spend another week on a project, will it be 20% better? Or only 5%? At what point should you send the work in and get going with other writing?
It’s an individual decision but I usually work on spec until I feel burned out. At that point I no longer work toward perfection. If I’m tired, I proof the piece a few more times and then send it off. Better to work on something new than grind away at something that’s become old and stale. There’s also a backstop here. Once sent in, the editor can tell you what isn’t clear or what needs work. That’s often better than spending time agonizing over what you think may be wrong.
At what point do you stop your writing?