I’m in the exact middle of a major editing overhaul (see last week’s Show and Tell post), and outside of a few tears, it’s going rather well. When people ask me how my writing is going, I can say things like, “I’m almost querying!” and “I cut 2,000 words!” But this morning I received a question I think needs a longer answer.
“How will you know when your book is done?”
I'll write and write and WRITE, and then one day, the Magical Book Fairy will appear before my sleep-deprived blank stare, tap me on the head with her wand, and announce that I’ve just finished my book. Woohoo!
…I wish. Art is one of those things that never feels done. Ever. If I scan chapters I’ve spent hours perfecting, I will still find things to change. I’ve finished scenes on Sunday then ripped them to shreds on Thursday. Ask any creative person if they ever want to change parts of their “final product”—if they don’t, they’re either lying or don’t return to old projects enough.
The process of finishing a book—and knowing it’s complete—can be abstract. On one hand is the desire to reach perfection, and on the other is the desire to sell your work. You cannot sell a book if you never let yourself see it as finished. So, how do you get to that point?
First, if you don’t love it, you’re not done. If there are plot holes or depthless characters or confusing scenes, you’re not done. And if you want to stop working on it because you’re tired of tying your brain into knots, you’re definitely not done.
Second, if your betas/mentor/critique partners keep finding things that don’t make sense, you’re not done. If they disagree with how you wrote a character or a conversation, you might be done, but you may also need to re-examine those pieces. A book is like an elegant timepiece, and those cogs need to fit perfectly and move in unison.
This is why you need beta readers, mentors, and nice friends who love books. These people are sounding boards. Words can always be moved around, but the heart of each scene needs to be in the right place. Sometimes the author is too close to see that an element of their story needs to shift. I know that has certainly been the case with me!
You'll know your book is done when it’s done. I know that sounds like, “You'll know you're in love when you're in love”, but I actually believe it. You are the only person who can tell when you’re done editing and rewriting. Someone else might convince you to stop editing, but deep down, you know when you should keep going.
That's when you take a deep breath, let it out, and get back to work. It’s time to write.
Michelle tends to live life with a CHALLENGE ACCEPTED attitude, which has resulted in a first-person novel, a podcast, and an entire day spent eating nothing but waffles. You should follow her on Twitter: @redactionaire.