Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Finish the Book


I typed this happily last week, on two different manuscripts. One is Cold Spell, a book that over the past three years has shape-shifted from the story of a woman who searches for her missing mother to the story of a woman who’s obsessed with a glacier. The other is No Returns, a novel for younger readers that I drafted five years ago with a good friend, then set aside.

If you’ve ever finished a book, you know it’s a lot like getting a diploma. There are parts of getting there that you love. There are parts you hate. At times the process seems endless. Getting to the end feels heady. It feels scary. You feel nostalgic. You feel proud – and well you should – but doubt plagues you. Are you really finished?

Endit is a state of mind. It’s also a process. Unless you recognize both of these truths, your elation at ending – and quite possibly the success of your book – will be short-lived.

To get to the finish, and to help you know when you’ve arrived, keep these precepts in mind:

  • When the end’s in sight, there’s a natural tendency to hurry things up, which hurts the pacing of your book. Writing may feel like a marathon, but trust me: a sprint to the end won’t satisfy your reader.
  • You’ll finish your book many times before you’re through. Cold Spell isn’t really done; it’s ready for the proofreader. No Returns isn’t finished either – only the latest draft. If you’re a serious writer, concerned about quality, you’ll enjoy multiple Endits. You’ll finish multiple drafts of every book You’ll finish at least one round – likely more – of line edits. You’ll finish a copy-edited version. Set up these gates for yourself and celebrate an Endit as you pass through each.
  • Use deliberate strategies to become more and more objective about your work. If you compose on the keyboard, print out your manuscript and do the next pass on paper, or send it to your e-reader so it looks like a book. Try reading your whole book out loud.
  • If you can afford it, hire a developmental editor and a proofreader. For a cheaper alternative, try your book out on beta readers, the more objective the better. They’ll let you know when you’re finished.
  • Don’t be seduced by your achievement. Know where you’re most vulnerable, and once you’ve finished your draft (not before!), set your radar on your known weaknesses. Every writer worth her ink (that includes digital) should know, front and center, her three greatest strengths and her three greatest flaws as a writer.
  • Kafka had this one-word reminder posted at his writing desk: Wait. Build wait time into your process, preferably a few weeks after each pass through the book. You’ll be amazed how much more you’ll see, and how much better your book will become. Just don’t wait forever. 

For more about endings in fiction, check out this post from the archives.