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How do you know when your poem or story is done?

How do you know when your novel, short story, or poem is finished?

I tend to work on a poem over a series of days or months. I’ll come back to a poem in progress days or weeks later and see a word or phrase that didn’t work because I was too close to it the first time I wrote it.

I listen as I read the lines to myself aloud to decide if something doesn’t sound right. If something doesn’t ring true or feels awkward, or if the poem just doesn’t feel complete or whole, I know I’m not done. 

In an interview on, Mary Jo Bang described her writing process as playful, only “finished” when her attention wanes: “When I reach that point, I abandon the game and invent a new one.”

For the full interview plus interviews with five other poets, read 6 Poets, 6 Questions: Mary Jo Bang in Conversation.

Launched in 1996, is the award-winning website of the Academy of American Poets. Visitors to will find thousands of poems as well as hundreds of poet biographies, essays, interviews, and poetry recordings

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