Determining when the art is finished

Sometimes, the hardest part of creating is just figuring out when it’s done.

Sometimes, the hardest part of creating is just figuring out when it’s done.

Determining when there are enough words on the page or when there’s enough paint on the canvas or even enough musical notes is tricky because, at least through the eyes of the person who created it, there’s always something that’s not quite perfect.

It throws a wrench in the process because on some reasonable level, you know it’s done. You’ve gone through the necessary steps to clean it up, edit the words and anything else you need to do to complete something, but you still see mistakes. It can get to the point where it’s almost impossible to stop fiddling with something sometimes because, every time you look at it, you see something new to correct.

It’s normal to the creative process and can be a tough obstacle to overcome when you’re getting started in your creative attempts — even to this day, that feeling haunts me as I work and I’ve been doing this a long time now.

Part of the problem is perspective. You are your own worst critic and will notice every spelling mistake or missed note in a performance because you are intimately involved with something that you’ve probably spent a fair amount of time working on.

One of the best ways to get around that feeling is to get a different perspective on it. Find a friend, or a group of friends who do similar creative projects and show it to them. You’ll probably be surprised at what comes back.

If you’re a musician, you can play your song for someone or, if you want to surprise yourself, record it and listen to it.

I’m always surprised when I do this because I know where I’ve missed notes, where my timing was off and when something I was trying didn’t work — all things my musical partner never  catches and always asks why I was scowling during a song.

Once someone has had a chance to tell you whether or not they like it, ask them why they felt that way.

The answer to that question is likely going to be the thing that either verifies how you feel or puts your worries to rest, especially if that person’s thoughts and opinions mean something to you.

If that doesn’t work, put it in a drawer or cover it up and forget about it for a week. You’ll come back with a new perspective on the piece and, more often than not, you’ll realize you were a lot closer to being finished than you might have thought.

Even after you’ve finished working on something, that need to tinker will linger.

I could pull something out that I’d long considered finished and still find a way to edit the whole book again and change major sections, so I have a rule that helps me figure out when something is done: unless it’s a total mess and needs a lot of work, I give something three major edits. Anything more than that and I’m just looking for mistakes.

Now to sit back and worry about whether what I said made any sense at all or is just a rambling mess.

Douglas Paton is a Summerland writer and musician. If you know of a local arts and culture event, contact him at


Summerland Review