BABUSHKA ASKS: If I write something and read it soon after, I often think it's OK. After a very short while, reading over it makes me horribly embarrassed and sad. So how do you ever tell if something's finished?
Charlotte says: If you were not a creature of strong feelings, then you would not be any kind of artist at all. On the other hand, strong feelings by their nature are apt to overcome one.
Emily says: 'Embarrassed'? 'Sad'? Pffft. Never apologise, never explain.
PC adds: There are two possibilities here. One is that your later reaction is the right one, in which case the piece is either not finished or not working. If you think the latter is the case, grit your teeth, throw it away and start again or write about something else.
The other possibility is that your embarrassment and sadness aren't about the quality of what you wrote, but maybe to do with some other aspect of it -- like the experiences you're writing about, or maybe ambivalent feelings about writing at all.
I think there are three things you could try:
(1) Give it more time -- sure, look at it a day later, but then put it away and look at it again a week later.
(2) Ask yourself exactly what is making you embarrassed and sad. Particular words or sentences? The tone? Too big a gap between what you wanted to write and what you've actually written? Se if you can pin it down, and, if you can, whether something can be done about it.
(3) Give it to someone whom you trust to be a good reader and give you a straight answer, and ask him/her what s/he thinks.
Sometimes you'll write a sentence or a paragraph and you will know straight away that you have absolutely nailed whatever it is you wanted to say, and that you are never going to be able to say it better.
But the same piece of writing will mean different things to different people, or to the same person on a different day. You don't ever really know when something's 'finished', because writing's not an absolute thing, or a finite or a finishable one. Writing's like water. It's not going to keep still for you.