Veronica Rossi 5 Thursday, June 16, 2011

This week, we’ve been discussing how to know when you are finished with your manuscript.

I’m with Katy. I never thought I’d have an answer for this question. Maybe it comes from being a perfectionist. From the fear of knowing that I will continue to improve as long as I continue to write, so how can there be an end? Impossible, right?

Well, not necessarily.

As Donna mentioned in her post, there comes a point of diminishing returns. You change a sentence and then you change your mind. It was better the way it was. You put it back.

You can read and work something so much that it starts to blur before your eyes.

Try this: say the word “bagel” one hundred times. Go on. I’ll wait.

I guarantee that at about the 50th bagel, the very meaning of “bagel” will start to slip away, perhaps turning toward the peculiar nature of what you are doing (who says bagel 100 times?) or perhaps to appreciating the terrific vocal acrobatics of pushing out the “bay” and pulling in the “gull.”

Revising a novel is sort of like this. You hit a wall and the tight hold you have on the story starts to loosen. You start to lose perspective. You nitpick. You worry about things you never would have, if you weren’t burned out. When you are at this stage, it’s time to call in reinforcements, if you haven’t already. Beta-readers. Critique groups. Agents. Editors. They will remind you of what bagel means. How to say it and spell it. They’ll keep you on track, and give you a boost. Inevitably, however, you return to the point where you have done everything in your power to improve your story.

If you are a pre-published writer, this is how you know you are done. You no longer know what bagel means. If you are working with an agent or an editor, “done” usually means “it’s deadline day.”

Now for another angle on this same subject. You can be “done” with a manuscript without it being anywhere near done. Let me explain.

The first manuscript I wrote, I worked on steadily for five years. By that last year, the sight of it made me physically nauseous. I knew it wasn’t submission-quality work. I couldn’t get it there. There were just too many things to fix, and more importantly, I needed a change. So… it was an unfortunate “The End.”

The second manuscript I wrote, I knew I was “done” because I received feedback from an agent that gave me an epiphany of sorts—the subject for another post, for sure. That feedback told me, very clearly, that I was heading in the wrong direction. That was a very sad The End. I loved that manuscript. My writing was in a groove. The characters were complicated and flawed and faced terrific challenges. But… it wasn’t the right story to bring to market. Quite honestly, I had to walk away from it but I grieved.

My point is this: sometimes you are done well before the writing is polished, the story water tight. Sometimes you can call a work done before a beta reader or agent ever sees it. I know. It’s scary. But I think this one of the marks of a professional writer. Know when it’s time to walk away. You work in words. You can generate more of them. Better words. So don’t coddle them. Be fearless. Demand that they are the best words you’ve got. Done doesn’t always mean typing The End.

With my third manuscript, UNDER THE NEVER SKY, I had deadlines to tell me I was done. Fortunately, those deadlines coincided nicely with the feeling of being done.

But really, guys, as a writer there really is no The End. We move to the next WIP, the next draft, the next deadline. We improve. We stumble. We get up and go again. Which reminds me of the work I should be getting to right about now.

So for now--for this post--I think I will type:


Oh! Be sure to come by tomorrow to say hi to our newest Muse, Bret Ballou!


Love this post! The story of a writer's life is a never-ending one. Unless you give up. Something I can't imagine you ever doing, Veronica. You're talented, yes, but far more importantly you're tenacious!

Love the post, as always.

But what does it mean if I only got to 23 "bagels" before it lost all meaning?

Aw, thanks Lia! And Bret, I think it's a sign you might need breakfast.

Thanks for the timely post, Veronica. I'm almost at the DONE point of my WIP (a novel). I want to be done with it; at the same time don't want to let go (in case it's as bad as the buzzard on my shoulder tells me it is, though beta-readers are enthusiastic). I need to let go of it soon and launch it onto the world.

Al, I know a certain Beta reader who is VERY enthusiastic. Will email you offline.

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