Writing The Sister took me 18 months. During that period I rewrote multiple times, changing the point of view, the tense, and even the genre. When I couldn’t write any more I paid for a professional critique, got feedback from beta readers, and still I wasn’t happy enough to submit it. After weeks of more tinkering there was absolutely nothing left I could do but I still hesitated in submitting it, was it ready? How do we ever know?
Writing The Gift has been a completely different experience. Writing to a deadline means I have not had time to go through the same process that I went through with The Sister. A process that involved putting in a drawer and coming back to it after a month with fresh eyes. Now I am coming to the end of my copy edits it is time for me to let go of The Gift and hand it over to my publishers to turn into a book. Is it natural to feel I am not quite ready for this? I enlisted the help of some writer friends to find out how they know their book is complete. I do hope you find this is useful as me.
“I think a book is finished when all the character’s stories and subplots are resolved and I feel like I have made some new friends, regardless of whether I have given them happy endings or not. I also know when I’m done with editing as I am so sick of the sight of the book. I’ve ripped it apart and put it back together again several times, looked up every word that I’m not sure of, cleared up all my research points and checked for accuracy, added as much drama as I can, read it aloud to see if it is pacey enough, and generally can’t stand reading it again. Then it’s over to someone else for fresh eyes.” Mel Sharratt
“There are several markers I use to gauge when a novel is finished:
- Has the story been told? Have my characters gone from point A to point B as I planned?
- Are there any loose ends? Although this can depend on whether you’re writing a series or whether you want an ambiguous ending.
- Satisfaction. Regardless of #2 above, the reader must feel satisfied, their expectations when they finish the book must be fulfilled.” Sue Fortin
“My first book The Not So Secret Emails of Coco Pinchard took three years to write, and was a pretty agonising process. The book is 72,000 words in length, and for a long time this worried me. I thought it was too short, having read that a novel should be at least 90,000 words. At the time I was submitting to agents and publishers, and a few flagged this up, telling met it could ‘run a little longer’. I duly added in a few chapters, but they felt like padding. The book was submitted, then turned down by all the major publishers. A couple of years passed and I self-published the original 72,000 word version. It was a big success and continues to sell. No one has ever mentioned that the book is too short, or seems unfinished. I learned that you have to read your own work objectively, and every story has its own length. My subsequent novels have ranged from 53,000 words to 100,000. My first drafts are always finished in a rush, and I think the deadline dictates when the book ends, but I then like to build in time to put the book to one side for a few weeks, then read it back with an objective eye. Then I can work out the pacing and make sure that the book builds to a conclusion that is neither rushed or very drawn out.” Robert Bryndza
“For me it never feels finished. Even after my own three drafts and then another three with my editor I am still left feeling that there was more I could have done.” Angela Marsons
“With my first draft, I know when I’m finished when I’ve reached my planned conclusion. That’s the easy bit. But at that point I know I will be editing, so it’s only the story that’s finished, not the novel. I tend to edit as I go, so once the first draft is done I do a read through to tidy up and check for consistency. Again, once this is done, it’s still not ‘finished’. My agent will read the manuscript and give editorial feedback (which is the stage I’m currently at with my second novel), then the changes will come. I will do my best to ensure that the plot holes are plugged and that the conclusion makes sense – once my agent feels I’ve accomplished that, then the novel is finished. Only it’s not, because then my editor will read it…
I think once you’ve had a few rounds of edits, and everyone is happy with it, then it’s time to let it go. You could go on and on with edits, because each read through I might think ‘ooh, that word would be better there’, or I will think of a bit of description, or information that might enhance a particular passage more. I think as you grow as a writer you look back at past work with a more critical eye. So, once it’s been decided that the manuscript is done – don’t look back, start a new novel!” Sam Carrington
“As a new author, it can be tempting to rework your manuscript to death. Submitting to an agent or publisher is daunting, and it is common practice for new authors to keep manuscripts for longer than is necessary, reworking each sentence until all the words blur together and panic ensues. I work to deadlines, and after writing seven books, I have a good handle on my writing routine. I compare it to painting. The first draft is very rough, my canvas if you like. When I’ve dictated ninety thousand words, I begin to layer it with emotions and descriptive detail. I also remove the deadwood; words which are not moving the story forward. I do this several times, all the while keeping an eye on my deadline and working towards my daily goals. If you have time, rest your manuscript. Come back to it in a week or two with fresh eyes. Spend a little more time working through your words. When you come to the end, it should be ready to go. Don’t agonise over it, just be proud. Hit that send button and begin working on the next big thing.” Caroline Mitchell
“I think the book is finished when your readers are fully engaged with your characters – when they’re sucked into the plot and the setting, totally believing in the story.” Lisa Hall