Remember when you were a kid in the backseat of the car on a road trip? How many times did you ask, “Are we there yet?”
Finishing a book can be a lot like that. You finish a manuscript, set it aside for a few days, get some feedback from people you trust, identify some things to revise and make the changes. You’re done. Or maybe not. Authors often second guess themselves. A little more reflection and they think of something else that needs to be tweaked. Revise it one more time. The process turns into a feedback loop that never seems to end.
Novelist John Dos Passos once said, If there is a special hell for writers, it would be the contemplation of their own works.”
I have watched too many writers, especially those completing their first book, going through the agony of trying to decide whether they are finished. Is there a way to help them escape back across the river Styx?
I think so.
A lot of authors seem to have what we could describe as a forest and tree problem. They are happy with the narrative thread of their book. The characters work. The conflict is clearly drawn. There’s a strong sense of time and place. The dialogue is strong. But, the author wants to add a subordinate clause here or delete one there. Or maybe it would be better with a prologue. Would a bit more detailed description of the setting improve this scene? Maybe. But, there’s a case for taking a step back and looking at the book as a whole work.
When you began the book you had specific goals in mind. Does the draft you have meet those goals? You also had an audience in mind when you began. Do you believe the draft you have will appeal to your intended audience? If you can answer yes to these questions chances are you’re done.
A second thing to consider is that there are many ways a book might be written. If you have solicited feedback from friends, or a writing group, or even from an editor you probably got several suggestions. Because people made the suggestions does not necessarily mean that you should act upon all of them. The suggestions they made may have been different from the way you wrote it. That doesn’t always make them better. Think about what people said. If you genuinely think their ideas would improve the book, by all means make the necessary revisions. But if you look at the way you wrote it and think what you have works, leave it as it is.
Finally, give yourself a deadline. Set a date to send your book to your editor, agent, or publisher. Make it the best you can, but honor the deadline. I saw a great comment on the blog, Nail Your Novel. “Great novels aren’t finished, they’re pushed out of the nest.” When the date comes, don’t hesitate to give your book a shove.
You will always be able to find something you think you can improve with just a bit more work. Part of becoming a published author is being willing to take a good look at your manuscript, recognize that there may be some things you could still tinker with, and still say, “I’m done.”