Is the story every really finished? Or do writers just keep working on it until time runs out?
This question is commonly asked among writers with a good amount of experience (after we realize that a first draft does not equal done). :) If someone asked me this question a year ago, even six months ago, this would have been my answer: "I would like to think so, but no matter how hard I try I keep finding things to change. And I'm always left with a niggling feeling that something isn't quite right. So, maybe it'll never really be finished."
I've had this sentiment for pretty much my entire writing life (since age sixteen). It's only just recently that it has changed.
I've been working on a story, called ROYAL ROSE, for the past two and a half years. It's the hardest story I've ever written, hands down. It's not a story I would typically read, and it's so far out of my comfort zone it's not even funny. And yet, it was a story that got into my face and demanded to be told. So, I sat down to write it. But, everytime I thought I was done, a feeling that it wasn't done followed me around everywhere.
No matter what I did - let the manuscript sit, ask others' to read it, etc - that feeling never went away. Until recently.
I just finished my fifth draft for this story, and it's done. There might be better ways of executing certain aspects of the story, or a better way to say certain things, but the story itself is done! I've said everything I want to say in a way that's consistent with the characters and the setting. In other words, I knew the story I wanted to tell, and i finally figured out how it needed to be told.
Other stories I've written are still not "done," in that there is still something niggling me about them. Either something is missing, or an aspect of the story is bothering me, or something. I can't look at them and get a satisfied smile on my face that says all is well. And, it's now glaringly apparent that I wasn't absolutely sure of the story I wanted to tell, except in a general sense.
With ROSE, I have known her story since day one. I think this concept is simiar to an idea being "fully formed," like JKR said about Harry as she was sitting on that delayed train. Rose's story fell into my head with a very clear direction and outcome, and for the past two and a half years, I've been trying to figure out all the details. Now that I have, it has made so many more things clear.
My writing process will need to be adjusted because of it - before I write a single word, I want to know my story. Inside and out. Backwards and forewards. Upside down. Everything.
So, there may be some stories that can never be truly done. But my answer to the opening question has changed: "If you truly know your story and where it needs to go, then, yes, it's possible for it to be done."