A few weeks ago, I typed The End on the manuscript for A Collection of Lies, the fifth book in the Kate Hamilton Mystery series. It was very exciting. I have an official title. I have a spectacular cover. Now I actually have a book. Since then, though, I’ve been reflecting on what it means to finish the draft of a novel. What happens next? Here are three things that happen when you type The End.
1. You Take Time to Celebrate!
You have accomplished what the vast majority of people who set out to write a book never do. That’s true. According to statistics, a whopping ninety-seven percent of people who begin a book never finish it. That means that out of a thousand people, only thirty actually complete the book they set out to write. Even fewer, only six, will ever see that book in print. Think of all those partial books lying in drawers or taking up space on hard drives somewhere. Why is that? Lots of reasons have been suggested— discouragement, procrastination, disorganization, “writer’s block,” life events that get in the way. Personally, I suspect one of the biggest reasons people don’t finish books is because setting up a plot is a lot easier than resolving it. It’s like life—we’re better at getting ourselves into trouble than we are at getting ourselves out of it. But never mind—you did it! And that’s cause for celebration. Toast your success with champagne. Go out for dinner. Take a long walk with the dog. Call a friend and plan an outing. Congratulations! You deserve it.
2. You Realize That It Isn’t Actually the End
Typing The End doesn’t mean the book is ready for publication. Not by a long shot. Finishing the entire draft of a novel is cause for celebration, but actually it’s only the beginning of a process of revision, refinement, and reworking. Some writers dread this process. Others (like me) adore it. For me, putting words on a blank page is hard labor, like coaxing blood out of a stone. Once the words are there (however awful they may be), I can do something with them. One of my favorite quotes, attributed to Dorothy Parker, is “I hate writing. I love having written.” That’s me. Sometimes I hear new writers say “That’s it—I’ve done the best I can. I’m not going back.” If you’ve ever felt that way, I encourage you to rethink what it means to write a book. William Zinsser, the writer, editor, literary critic, and teacher, once said, “Rewriting is the essence of writing well, where the game is won or lost.” That doesn’t mean revision isn’t painful. One of the hardest tasks is cutting out anything that doesn’t illuminate the story in some way. Stephen King famously said, “When your story is ready for rewrite, cut it to the bone. Get rid of every ounce of excess fat. This is going to hurt; revising a story down to the bare essentials is always a little like murdering children, but it must be done.” When you type The End, take time to celebrate and then get back to work.
3. You Send Your Manuscript Off to Beta Readers
It’s an unfortunate truth that writers, like everyone else in the world, have a hard time getting out of their own heads. We’re much better at seeing faults in others than we are at seeing our own faults. The same thing is true in our writing. Problems that are so obvious to us in someone else’s manuscript, we often miss completely in our own work. That’s why it’s so important to get feedback. Beta readers aren’t editors or proofreaders. They are your first audience—non-professionals who read your manuscript before it’s published, identifying areas of confusion, plot holes, awkward phrasing, inconsistencies, boring bits, and underdeveloped characters. Fellow writers make great beta readers. You may also need a sensitivity reader, someone who reads your work with an eye for offensive content, stereotyping, misunderstandings of a subject or a community and the resulting misrepresentation. Since my WIP has a storyline about the Romany community in Victorian England, I engaged a sensitivity reader, a retired Romany professor and author in England. His comments have been eye-opening and vital.
Have you finished the draft of a novel? Get excited. Now the fun begins.