Thursday, 18 February 2016

How Do You Know When It's Done? - The After Process

How do you know when it's done?

In the after process, the bit that comes once you've finished your first draft, let it sit for a while and have started preparing it for publication - whether that's through the traditional or the indie route - knowing when it's truly done can be hard. After all, there are always ways to make the draft better and there will most likely always be some minor mistakes that make it through to the very final draft. But how do you know when to stop editing and re-drafting and call it a day? The answer may seem simple to you, but this is the way I've done things since becoming an author and that's the only basis I can use to answer this question.

As you'll know from having read my previous posts on this subject, I don't start editing straight away. Once I finish the book, I save it, file it away and then a year or so later, I come back to it with completely fresh eyes. At that point, I start the beginnings of making my second draft, then my third and so on. Eventually it goes to my editor and we keep going from there. But how do I know when the story is the best one it can possibly be? To be honest, I don't always know. Sometimes it's as easy as just feeling that this fits, that it's the story in my head and is created perfectly (or as near as) in the written word and that it's ready to be sent out into the big world. Other times I fret and worry and re-draft over and over because I honestly don't know if this is it. Usually at that point, my editor, proof-reader and other close friends who have read the drafts will take me to one side and tell me to stop and just let it go.

The reason they do this is because it is possible to edit too much, and to do something you may not be able to undo, which is change the story so much that it stops being what you planned to create and actually loses it's plot line and everything else along with it. Every writer wants to create a perfect story, the majority of us will also have major issues with believing that the work they do is worthy of being published. It's as if once you put on that writing hat, you get enormous self doubt that makes you want to hide every draft from anyone's eyes. In fact these days, I don't let anyone read my first draft. I may tell people the outline and some minor details, but the first draft is for my eyes only. Sometimes the same applies to the second and third, as it's only the draft I send to my editor that first gets read by someone who's not me.

I have finished writing twelve books, and am, at this moment in time, writing the second draft of my ninth book which is due out in paperback and e-book in the summer. I remember when I wrote the last line of the ninth book and I knew, I mean I KNEW, that that line was where I was going to end the book. It fitted so perfectly and I loved it! I walked around with a grin on my face for weeks afterwards as I remembered how perfectly that line fitted. Yet, I also haven't read the book since I finished it in 2013, and have almost written four more since. Do I honestly know if that last line will be where that book ends now? No, I don't. The editing process is about making sure that the reader has the same grin on their face as I did when I wrote it. So, although it may be hard for me to do so, that line may be one of the many that are cut from the final draft.

But back to the topic, in all those books, how many have I known for sure were done when I had re-written time and time again? As I have only gone through the process eight times, I can honestly say, about 50%. Some of the books had about fourteen drafts, whereas others only got up to five or so. Some I agonised over for weeks and weeks, never knowing if I was doing the right thing, and others the words flowed and I knew when it should end and what phrase it should end on. It's one of those things that people say will get easier to judge with practice and while I have had some of that, I'm always going to be still learning, just as most other authors are. The important thing to take away though, is that there comes a point where you need to stop editing. At least a point where you need to be able to say, "Okay, I've done all I can," and mark it as done. Otherwise we'd all be stuck in the editing process and no books would ever make it to market.

Now, just to be clear, that does not mean that once you say done, you stop editing completely. I just mean you stop writing new drafts with major plot points changed. You will, as most authors - indie or traditional - find some grammatical, spelling and sometimes even plot errors that need correction and you should always be on the look out for those to be extra sure that your book is as error free as possible, but as far as things outside of that, editing has to stop sometime.

It may even be that you decide that you're not happy enough with the plot still to put it out there. My advice then would be to save what you've done, put it down somewhere and come back to it a long while later to see if it can be salvaged or if it was just causing you to go cross-eyed because you'd looked at it for too long. That's always a possibility too. As always though, your mileage may vary. Happy writing!

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