It’s hopefully a given for most, that the scribbled first draft of your manuscript is not finished. Not by a long shot. However, as the process continues and your book develops; almost similar to the way your child grows from a baby to a toddler and then onto an adolescent and an adult, things can get a tad fuzzy on when you’re ACTUALLY finished.
At one time or another, every writer will ask themselves that question. Am I finished? Really? So how do you, in fact, determine that? There’s no real exact answer unfortunately. Yes, you want to make your manuscript as polished as possible with rewrites, edits (professional editing if you can), checking out plot structure for strengths and weaknesses, etc. But then after you’ve done all that, when do you call it quits?
The first thing to understand is that we are forever changing. I know, I know, I’m sure you’re skeptical at what I just said, but hear me out. Isn’t there things that you thought were fantastic as a teenager but wouldn’t be caught dead with now that you’re an adult? Anyone have any tattoo regrets? The same thing goes for our writing. We need to get away from the delusion that even when our manuscript is professionally edited and published, it will never be permanent perfection in our minds.
Go ahead, let out that big sigh. If you have to, just rest your face in your hands for a moment. Okay, better? It’s inevitable, that even ten years down the road, you might wake up in the middle of the night saying, “Why didn’t I think about that? How could I have missed it? That would have been perfect!”
Yes, and maybe it would have been, but if you’re published, there’s no going back. Find comfort in the fact, that it’s really okay. What would you have done differently anyways? Waited ten years to publish your novel when you got that awesome revelation? Uh…no. By that time it might have changed anyways. Is vicious cycle going through your head right now?
There comes a time when you must stop. Halt. Cease. Desist. You need to know when that moment comes and when you’ve reached the point that “good enough” is really good enough.
Again, every author must answer this question for themselves. There is no right or wrong answer. Your writing develops as you do, bending and changing as you have new life experiences. As I said your tastes will change in some things.
It’s not common for some published authors to almost be embarrassed by a book they wrote even a few years earlier. But here’s what’s magical about that. It’s a footprint. Your footprint. That book, in addition to its contents, is a record of where you were at in your own development as an author. Pretty cool, huh? In order to know how far you’ve traveled, you’ve got to put down some mile markers (in the form of…published writing).
So here are a few questions that you must ask yourself if it’s time to let your baby bird fly or fall from the nest:
- Is this something I would be proud to release into the wild RIGHT NOW? (Don’t be that smothering parent.) Yes, I know there’s a voice in your head thinking, “I could maybe tweak it a few more times if I just hold onto it a bit longer.” I will repeat your tastes and style will change. Accept it and move on. Don’t let that browbeating emotion keep you from having writing and publishing success.
- Did I make sure that I completed all the necessary story points that I had in my outline? Or better yet like me, all the sticky notes I had stuffed everywhere from random fleeting thoughts as I drove, laid in bed, or was at work.
- Does the beginning of my novel feel like something that will invite or compel people to keep reading? THIS IS IMPORTANT. Those first few pages may make it or break it for a reader. Whether they choose your book from dozens of others in the bookstore to buy or leave it to collect dust on the shelf. Make it count.
- Did I take out any part of my book, any dialogue, or descriptions that might not have fit or caused me to cringe? Not every moment in your book has to be spectacularly compelling, but you do want to get rid of wordiness or parts that the reader is going to skip.
- Do my characters have believable motivations? Is there a point to why Sally can cast a blazing inferno from her hands? Or is that something you just threw out in one scene and never revisited again causing the reader to go, “Whatever happened with that?”
- Did I make sure that there are no continuity problems or logical missteps? Especially, if you’re a writer with a 200,000 word manuscript (I suggest you shave off a bit if that’s the first book your trying to get published. Another topic altogether.), it can be hard to keep everything tightly in line. Perhaps, you changed a city’s name or you decided to write out a character that you had in your second or third draft of chapter two. Did you make sure you followed through with the name change throughout? Is the demise of the character taken out of all the chapters?
- Have I enlisted beta readers, a writing group, a workshop, or a developmental editor to help me trim the fat and enhance the strengths of my novel? Sometimes the best thing to do is remove yourself from your manuscript. Get another pair of fresh eyes who might notice something that you didn’t after the dozen rewrites you trudged through. (Small tip: Don’t just pick any eyes. It’s okay to get a friend or relative to read your manuscript during rewrites as long as they’re honest.) In this stage of the game, however, you can only benefit from experienced eyes who know what to look for. After all, the next step is finding an agent and publisher. You KNOW they have experienced eyes so it’s important to make a good impression up front.
If you answered yes to those seven questions, you just might in fact be ready to embark on the next stage of agents and publishing. The best thing I can say, is just don’t overthink it. You got this!