When Do You Let Go?

Am I the only one whose heart speeds up whenever my cursor nears the submit button? In the five minutes before, that moment I can be perfectly calm, confident, even, that my paper is finished or at least sure that there’s nothing more that I can do. Yet, facing the prospect of finally submitting my piece, I feel a burst of panic.  It is then that I question almost every aspect of my paper and every choice I made, searching for weaknesses and inevitably finding or inventing them; I find myself thinking if only I just had a little more time. I could rewrite my entire paper or at least reread it once more to make sure there aren’t any typos. I could make it perfect.

This is of course delusional thinking; there is no such thing as a perfect paper. Writing isn’t like math, where there is a single answer. There are many answers, which can all be radically different but still excellent. There are many methods, which all can create a great result; some are more successful than others, sitting in a quiet room, making an outline, following a fluid structure of claim, evidence and interpretation, but I’m sure that there is someone who actually succeeds in writing beautiful, argumentative papers without any planning while watching television, texting, and eating chips. I just know that person is not me. Lord knows, I’ve tried to be that person.

So, it’s a matter of writing a good enough paper, one where you’re confident enough to press that submit button and let go. I have a philosophy that at a certain point, I can only make small changes that don’t really make a difference or I can completely gut my paper and rewrite it, undoing every choice I made. That is the point I turn it in. I suppose it’s about commitment to my writing and confidence in my skills. Yet, I still wonder, what if I made those big changes? What if the changes I think are small, would actually make a difference?  At that point, however, those huge changes would be half-baked, without enough time to execute them. As for the small changes, I grow weary of reading my own writing.

To be honest, I don’t have any conclusion on this issue. I know other people struggle with not having enough time and go straight up to the deadline.  Other people confidently click that button. Sometimes it’s not whether or not you’re confident with an essay but whether or not you have five other things to do. Yet, I think or at least hope (selfishly) that I am not the only one who doesn’t know when to let go of an essay. How do you guys know when you’re done with an essay or other work and it’s time to turn it in?

2 thoughts to “When Do You Let Go?”

  1. One criterion I would think would be an effective gauge of a paper’s merit is the amount of time you put into it. If you started it a week before, filled up a couple looseleafs of brainstorming, consulted your professor or a librarian, and proof-read a half a dozen times, it should be golden. However, I don’t think it actually works.

    I’ve written papers the night before they’re due and gotten better grades than on ones I’ve devoted subtantially more time and brainpower to. Granted, this isn’t commonplace, but the many different factors that go into writing I think attest to the fact that basing your performance off of the amount of time you spent on the project is foolproof.

    The difficulty of the topic, natural ability to understand the topic, or natural affinity, all pose problems for comparing writing apples-tp-apples based on the time put in. Heck, you could even have a bit of luck that propels your paper to a decent grade in the end. I think the only way to really get a sense of how your paper will come back to you after being graded is to heed the gut feeling you get when you push that submit button. You said you get fidgety whenever you turn papers in, which could shroud your judgment of what your gut is telling you. Maybe after typing that last word you can take a quick look at your instincts and see how they’re feeling about your work.

  2. I definitely relate to you. Regardless if I start a paper a month before it’s due or the night before it’s due I can never seem to be completely confident with my “final” product. I think your post is heavily tied to the theory of multiple drafts and revision…because even when we are hitting that “submit” button, what we have written can never be perfect. Even the most famous, successful writers can’t be perfect even after 20+ drafts of a novel or essay. This realization, I believe, comes from maturing as a student and as a person at the same time. When we were young (and naive), it was easy to say that our writing was perfect, because in that moment, we really though that it was. But as we grow as writers, we realize that there is a million different ways to phrase any particular sentence, and it is literally impossible to produce an essay that is “perfect”. So don’t worry, you’re not alone…I think all of us panic a little bit before submitting our final draft, even J.K. Rowling probably wasn’t 100% confident with Harry Potter, but hey…she was pretty successful, I guess.

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