How do you know when you have enough? How do you know when to stop gathering and start typing? Well, you need a test, otherwise you’ll just keep gathering .Here are some tests for moving to the next step:
1. You never have enough, but you have to type anyway. So stop already.
2. You have enough when you reach your deadline. Bad test, because then you’re going to turn the piece in late. The deadline means when your article has to come in, not when you come in. To make it a good test, calculate tasks against the time left to deadline. Let’s say it’s 2:00 p.m., and your deadline is 5:00. You’re an hour’s drive from the office, and you need one hour to type your piece. So you have to finish gathering by 3:00. Actually, you need to figure in a little slack.
3. You have enough when you’ve got good answers to all your questions. I like this test because I do it this way. I write down questions I have to answer, and I add questions as I learn more. When I’ve got the right questions and good answers, I’ve got enough. If you can’t think up questions ahead of time, this may be a bad test for you.
4. You have enough when you can fairly represent all sides of the question you’re writing about. Usually a good one, especially for political writing.
5. You have enough when you can prove your thesis. Also common in political writing, but not a good test unless you honestly try to disprove your thesis.
6. You have enough when you can’t think of anybody else to talk to. A bad test, because you can always thinks of somebody else to call up. This test increases the misery for procrastinators.
7. You have enough when you can explain your subject fully in two minutes to smart people who know nothing about it, and they understand it. (Journalists call this “telling it to mother.” If you’re reading this, you have a smart mother.)
8. You have enough when you’re tired of it, bored to tears, fed up. This bad test afflicts features reporters, researchers doing large projects, and book writers. This debilitating test comes too late; you want to type when you love the subject, when you’re hot.
9. For visual thinkers, you have enough when you can imagine the sections of your piece as boxes, and those boxes are full of the information needed for each one. This test works for me because I think in pictures.
10. You have enough when you have a beginning, middle, and end; and you have the information to fill in between them. A good test because it considers both form and content.
11. You have enough when you can answer any question your editor asks you. This paranoid test leads to compulsive overgathering. It also suggests you suffer from a bullying editor, and should try to transfer to a new one.
12. You have enough when you can fill the space. A bad test. We’re in the explanation business, not space filling. In early 20th-century American newspapers, reporters had enough when their notes covered two sides of a sheet of paper.
13. Some people have enough when they can fill the holes in a draft. They stop midway in their gathering, write a draft, see what’s missing, and then gather material to fill the gaps. This method sounds slow, but some of the fastest writers I know use it.
14. Many journalists say “their gut tells them” when they have enough. This is a bad test because most reporters fear they’ve missed something. If you wait until your gut tells you that nothing’s missing, you’ll wait forever.
Some people combine tests. For example, I have enough when I can answer my questions, see full boxes, and have an ending. If you don’t have a test for enough, you’ll always start typing late. So pick the test(s) that might work for you.