Monday, March 27, 2017

How Do You Know When Your Book Is Done?



Stephanie Morrill is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com and the author of several young adult novels, including the historical mystery, The Lost Girl of Astor Street (Blink/HarperCollins). Despite loving cloche hats and drop-waist dresses, Stephanie would have been a terrible flapper because she can’t do the Charleston and looks awful with bobbed hair. She and her near-constant ponytail live in Kansas City with her husband and three kids. You can connect with her on FacebookTwitterPinterest, Instagram, and sign up for monthly updates on her author website.



"How do you know when your book is done?"

I get this question a lot when I have the privilege of talking to young writers at writing conferences or over email. I hate that I can't provide a, "If you've done A, B, and C, then your book is ready!" kind of answer.

Here's what I tell them:




1. It's a gut thing.

Similar to how you "knew" that was the right name for your main character, or the best last line for your book, "knowing" that your book is done is more of a feel. This is a piece of the process that's more intuitive than mathematical.

And sometimes my gut is more like, "I think my book is maybe done...?" rather than, "I'm SO ready! Let's do this!"

2. Process is important.

When you're a new writer, and you don't have a process yet, it's hard to follow the advice of "trust the process." Some writers are three draft writers and others are twelve; Until you've written and edited a few manuscripts, how can you know and trust what you're doing?

Every writer's process is a bit different, but generally speaking your book needs to go through several rounds of edits, several rounds of feedback, and several rounds of copy editing before it reads like a real book.

3. Let time be your tester.

If you have been writing stories for a few years or less, you are learning, growing, and changing crazy fast. Especially if you are a teen writer. If it takes you six months to write a first draft, you are likely a vastly different writer by the end of that process than you were at the beginning.

Seeing this kind of rapid growth is wonderful, but it's also a challenge when you're editing. Regarding their first novels, I frequently hear young writers say things like, "I may as well just scrap the whole beginning and rewrite it!"

And I understand, because I've been that writer!

I know we're an impatient people, and nobody likes to hear "give it time" as advice, but I strongly believe in its value to the creative process. That's why with every book, I give myself at least six weeks between the first draft and the second. I need that distance to be able to see the book clearly.

There's nothing wrong with putting your completed book aside for a month or two, and then reevaluating it's doneness. (Yeah, I know. Not a word.)

4. The only real way to know the book is done and readythat you are readyis to fling her out there and see what happens.

You know when I knew that I had become a good enough writer to be published? When an agent said to me, "You have a lovely writing voice!"

I thought, "I do? Yay, I'm finally here!"

Before she said that to me, I had no idea I had finally developed a writing voice. I just kept doing my best work, and then sending it out to agents and editors to see what they thought.

I know that's a scary way to find out if your book is good enough to catch a professional's eye. I wish you could just upload your Word Doc to a program and have it give you a red light or green light, but that's not a thing yet. (Surely someone is working on it...)

But I can't find a way around it: The only way to really know that your book is done and that you're ready is to have not-family, not-friend people read it and give you their opinion.

This doesn't mean that if one editor at one conference doesn't like it, you should scrap the book and rewrite it. Again, this goes back to point number one, that deciding your book is done is largely a gut thing. We'll talk more about receiving and incorporating feedback in the coming weeks as we transition into talking about publishing.

One last note: I picked the word "done" for this article because I heard a quote (I cannot figure out who said it, so if someone knows, please help me out) that "No book is ever finished, it's just done."

I've found that to be true in my own books, that I could nitpick them forever, and I imagine you'll find it to be true for your stories as well.

Have you finished a manuscript yet? (It's okay if you haven't!) If not, what's the farthest you've gotten?










34 comments:

  1. I did finish a manuscript once (it was SO bad), but afterwards, I decided to just scrap the whole book-writing thing for a while and focus on writing other stuff, like flash fiction and poetry. I do plan to go back to writing full-length books someday, though. Say, do you guys ever plan on covering short stories and flash fiction on this blog? I'd love that!

    PS - If you want to check out some of my work, you can do it here: http://therustedinkblot.blogspot.com/. Sorry for the self promotion, I guess, but I'm trying to gather some feedback on my work. I've never really shared my writing with anyone else before!

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    1. I just visited... That's REALLY good. I like how you kept a theme throughout the entire section and how you used that to get the feeling through. :D

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    2. You are certainly not alone in having a bad finished draft lying around. I have many!

      We might have a guest talk about short stories or flash fiction, but I don't think any of us know much about it. Good suggestion!

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  2. I finished my manuscript in January. I was so excited when I could finally type "The End". But now I get to go edit it... Not so excited about that. :D

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    1. Congratulations, Lexi! We're here for you :)

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    2. Yay!! Great job, Lexi! I know writing and editing are different for everyone, but I personally found the macro edit to be really enjoyable. I got to rewrite/add full scenes, so it was a lot like the writing phase. It was easier than the writing phase, though, because now I had the full picture of what the book was about. Good luck editing, Lexi!

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    3. Congratulations, Lexi! That is awesome! I agree with Olivia, I tend to find editing less frustrating (to a degree) then writing the rough draft since I have most everything already down. Now I can just flesh it out and make it sound really good. :) Good luck editing, and once again congrats!
      *Sarah

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    4. I've started going through and making a list of everything wrong with it and that has actually been kind of fun! I was impressed at how that went, but then I slacked off. Hopefully I'll get back on it ASAP. :D

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    5. Congrats, Lexi! Finishing a draft is such a huge accomplishment! Best of luck editing :)

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  3. I've been writing for eleven years or thereabouts, and I've gotten past the stage where almost everything stopped in the middle and never got finished. I think I've completed around seven manuscripts, most of whom have had some sort of revision.

    There's usually a point just after I finish, before anyone else sees it, when I feel like this story is ready for publication, it's my best yet, people will probably like it, it has no major plot holes, the characters are real and likeable, that sort of thing. Then I get my first responses from beta-readers, and the illusion deflates. I haven't yet had a story, once finished with beta-reading, be to the point where I know it really is ready for publishing, though I'm hoping that will be soon.

    https://ofdreamsandswords.wordpress.com

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    1. Sounds like you're getting closer every time, Sophia! Stick with it, and I believe you'll be rewarded for your investment.

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  4. I haven't finished my manuscript yet. I've been working on the same idea for a year now. I've put aside a couple times because I couldn't get past the first chapter, but I kept finding myself going back to it. Should I continue writing it even through I still can't get past the beginning?
    -Emily D

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    1. Only you can decide that, Emily, but if you find yourself drawn to it again and again, I think that means something. It's okay to not be able to get past the beginning. There are a lot of writers (including me!) who struggled with that in their early years of writing.

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  5. I did finish a manuscript once, but that was a good few years ago and now I just cringe whenever I think about it... Now I'm one of those writers that just repeats endless 'first' drafts, which may sound like a bad thing, but I really enjoy working on my current idea. I don't really intend to get published, so having fun is the main goal I suppose :) Thanks for another excellent post!

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    1. Charlotte, then it sounds like you're making great choices about where to focus your energy. I'm glad you're having fun with writing!

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  6. I am in the micro edit phase of my first book, and at this point I just need to find some beta readers who would be willing to read my book all the way through and give me feedback. That's been hard to find, since not many people have the time to devote to a still-rough book. My second novel I had to split into two, and I am currently in the second chapter of the second draft of one of the novels. I am discouraged that none of them are "done" yet, but I am now considering self-publishing as an option for my first book just so I can have an easier goal to work toward. Thank you for this post, Mrs. Dittemore! This is definitely a helpful topic to cover.

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    1. Sorry, I meant Mrs. Morrill. :P I really need to pay more attention to what my fingers are doing on the keyboard.

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    2. It's an honor to be confused with Shannon :) Are you in the Go Teen Writers Community Facebook group? People are frequently looking for and finding beta readers there. I know that can be a really tough thing.

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    3. My mother joined on my behalf, since I don't have a Facebook account, but I haven't visited in ages. I hadn't thought about using that to find beta readers. Thanks, Mrs. Morrill! I'll have to check that out.

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  7. Great post! I think a lot about the end of my book, and what the best ending for it is going to be. I finished a manuscript once, about six or seven years ago--it was my first book, so it was generally horrible, but at least I can say I finished it. My current manuscript has yet to be finished, probably not least because I started it over twice (or thrice?). As of right now, the farthest I've gotten is 224K words and counting, so sooner or later I should get to the end. I'll finish it this time... really, I will....

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    1. If my books were that long, I would struggle with finishing too!

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  8. I've finished three fan fiction stories, my own two novels, and a several short stories in the past couple of years, which is great because I was always the girl who had a dozen ideas and never got beyond writing the first few chapters of any story. Though I did find out that I stink at writing short stories; I've only managed to write and finish a few of them! Currently I'm editing my first novel and have put my second novel on sleep since I just finished it (sorta) this month. Thanks for this post, Mr. Morrill, it's really helpful since I ask myself this all the time.
    *Sarah

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    1. I'm so glad you found it helpful, Sarah! You've had a productive couple of years!

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  9. I finished a second draft which I have left to rot because I don;t care much about the story anymore and a few around the 4th draft of short stories and a different first draft which I am not reworking entirely and have just finished plotting out for writing for camp Nano.

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    1. Yeah, when you stop caring about the story, it's hard to care about edits! I hope Camp NaNo goes well for you!

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  10. Hey Everyone! Love the site! And all the posts. I am a good writer (or so my family and friends say), and I really want to write a book, how do you start? I have characters, and a concept, but how do I start writing? Thanks everyone!

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    1. You just, start. :D Sorry, what I did is just pick a good point to start at and start writing from there. Read your favorite books and figure out how they started, and then figure out what type of beginning you like and start with that.
      Hope this helps!!!

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    2. Thanks Lexi! It did help. Should I write a whole storyline,with tiny details or just basic, and make it up as I go?

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    3. That's up to you. I don't like to get the nitty gritty details because chances are, you're going to get rid of them in a later edit. I usually plot a basic idea of what I want to happen (thank you sticky notes) and then, once I know what I want, just go for it. Sometimes, at places in my book, it's just:
      This happened.
      Then this happened.
      Then this thing happened.
      Then this crazy thing happened.
      Etc.

      But as long as you get the basic idea out, you can fill in the details later. :D

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    4. Keilah, as unhelpful as this may sound, every writer is a bit different, and there's no right or wrong way. Some just dive right in, others spend a long time brainstorming. And you won't know what kind of writer you are until you wade into the waters for yourself.

      The good thing is, you can't screw it up. Right now all that matters is getting some words on the page, whether they're brainstorming words or draft words or both. Here are some posts that I think might help you:

      The comments section of this post might be really interesting to you:

      http://goteenwriters.blogspot.com/2015/04/finding-way-you-write-novel.html

      And then here are a couple others:
      http://goteenwriters.blogspot.com/2015/06/whats-best-way-to-plot-novel.html

      http://goteenwriters.blogspot.com/2013/07/pros-and-cons-of-plotting-and-pantsing.html

      I hope that's helpful, Keilah! Try not overthink it, and just have fun :)

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    5. Thanks Stephanie! I'm a perfectionist, so I like doing things in order, so it's kind of hard for me to do it without a list. So I'll just look at the links you've given me, (which have helped a lot), and I'll start having fun!!! :) Thanks again Lexi.

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  11. I am HORRIBLE at finishing books. The only things I know I have finished are short stories fifteen pages or less. Every time I start working on something I get a new idea! I have beginnings all over, but no finished stories. However, I have two stories I am about to start that might give me my first finished novel...
    The longest one I've ever done before I gave up is sixty-eight pages. I'm redoing the whole plot now and only a few elements are staying the same, but I think it'll be a lot better.

    On a different note, Camp Nano is starting tomorrow! Yay!

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    1. That happens to me ALL the time. I have about 15 WIP's. NO JOKE. xD

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  12. Thank you for this article, Miss Stephanie!! I finished my first draft for Kindred Spirits in Novembor and planned to publish it a few months later. It's only 10,000 words but finishing it felt awesome!! I still haven't published it but I don't feel like I need to rush into the publishing process yet.

    - Lilly Shyree (alillyingodsgarden.blogspot.com)

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