The last scene is written, the last piece of dialogue done … and it is finished! After slaving over the damned thing for seven months, I can sit back, heave a huge sigh of relief, and toast myself with a nice tumbler of bourbon. Another novel done and dusted.
Well, not quite.
The cursor is blinking, daring me to change a word, sentence, or paragraph. Glass in hand, I stare at the last page, replaying the book in my mind, savouring the good parts, mulling over the bits that could stand some polishing. Not just yet, my dear characters! I have to finish my bourbon first, and then do some basic maintenance.
First, I make a copy of the manuscript on my internal and external backup drive. If my primary drive packs it in, I haven’t lost anything. I wince at the number of times I read tales of woe on LinkedIn and Facebook where authors have not done ongoing backups as they write. The computer fails and … well, you know what happens: tears, gnashing of teeth, tearing of hair. Not nice. Lesson? Always do backups as you write!
With the book done, it is not ready for publishing, not by a long shot! As I write a section, I always do an edit before moving on to the next bit. After some twenty or thirty pages, I print them out and proofread the stuff. I am always amazed at things I missed editing online. The human mind is tricky, and it will sometimes fool you, automatically correcting errors your eyes pick up. Reading a printed page tends to give a more accurate world view to the brain, enabling me to correct the little bloopers that managed to avoid online obliteration.
Learning to be a stern, objective self-editor takes time and perseverance. Writers can become possessive about their creations, unwilling to admit that the product of their genius could possibly have punctuation, grammar, or word usage errors. Cut out that word or sentence? Cut off my hand instead! But cutting out that word or sentences is exactly what every writer must be prepared to do. Not only cut out that sentence, but a paragraph or page. Every piece of freshly finished writing must be viewed critically and any rough elements polished off. How much polishing is required depends on how good a writer is at writing.
It takes time to go over several hundred pages of manuscript, pen savagely attacking everything out of place, then updating the computer version. Done, ready to be released on unsuspecting readers! Again, not quite. Even though I don’t do a bad job editing my stuff, I am sure there is a little blooper or two grinning with glee that has managed to escape my eyes. To make sure the manuscript is as clean as possible, I send it off to a proofreader to kill off those wayward bloopers. When I get the thing back, sure enough, dead bloopers. After applying the corrections, I print out the whole thing again and, you guessed it, I do a final proofread. As you might expect, by the time it is all finished, I am heartily sick and tired of the book!
Anyway, I can now confidently publish the masterpiece! Confidently? There is never a perfectly finished book. After rereading some of my old novels, I invariably spot a word or phrase that should be cut or changed. I could keep polishing a novel forever, which would mean I would never get around to writing a new one. At some point, I have to let go and let the novel face critical readers and their reviews. Writing a novel is like rearing a child. From initial toddler paragraphs, to developing middle teens, and finally a finished manuscript. Once done, you have to let it make its own way in the world, maybe with a sniff or two.
The final step? Publish, of course!
Well, that is not really the final step. There is the ongoing marketing, but I have suffered enough pain for the moment. Let me recover a bit, okay?
All right, I have finished the novel, the damned thing is published, I push it along with some marketing, and then what? I don’t know about you, but I usually take some time off to clear my head and perhaps start tossing ideas for the next novel. I have several ideas on tap, and it takes a bit of time to sift through them, and nurture an idea that can be developed into a novel, or perhaps a short story. With a short story, I can get stuck into it fairly quickly. For a novel, that takes considerably more effort…and several glasses of bourbon.
You may want to check out the following article on planning a novel.