by Marissa Macy
Finishing feels so good. No, not like that. Okay, like that too. But here, I’m talking about finishing a writing project.
Writing, particularly in the novel format, is a long, thankless slog. And finishing something is a rare occurrence. Even if you’re prolific, you may experience the satisfaction of completing a writing project once or twice a year. For most, it can take years before you can pat yourself on the back and say “I did it! It’s done! Yipee yeehaw!”
Too bad it’s not as simple as saying “I’m finished.” As satisfying as typing THE END may be, it is not, in fact, the end. Your book isn’t finished when you type THE END. Your book isn’t finished after that twentieth round of edits, after that final read-through, after you print it and slap it on a table triumphantly. It’s not finished when you pop open a bottle of champagne and start sending it to agents. It’s definitely not finished just because you start working on something new. Nope, still not finished when you say NO REALLY. I’M DONE. Been rejected a thousand times? You’re not done yet. Made a round of edits based on feedback? Not quite there. Got an agent? No, not even then. Have a book deal? Nope nope nope.
And honestly, I’m not sure if it’s fully finished when it’s an actual book in a bookstore. As for unpublished projects, I guess you could delete all traces of a book and say it’s done, but remnants of it may still live in your mind, even if it never sees the light of day.
If you find yourself unable to shake an old project, or are considering revising an old one, here are six reasons that book you thought was done, may not be done. Dun dun DONE.
6 Reasons Your Book May Not Be Finished
- You Haven’t Taken Time Away From It. I’m sure you’ve heard this writerly wisdom a thousand times. I have heard it many times and chose not to listen, so it’s worth repeating. I always take a cute week or two away from a project before moving on to its next draft. It’s easy to be over-eager to finish up, especially when you feel so close to that “finish line.” However, I recently re-read the opening chapter of the book I’m currently querying, only to find that it was a dumpster fire. Clearly my adorable two-week breaks weren’t enough to gain insight. If my memory serves me well, I thought it was brilliant when I said “It’s finished.” But after five or six months away, its problems were glaring. It’s very difficult to take that much time away from something, and I still struggle with stepping back. But if you can, I recommend taking that time and possibly starting a new project in the interim.
- You’re Older. This coincides with #1 but is something to keep in mind if you wrote something YEARS ago that you have since banished. I was certain that a book I wrote as a teenager was meant for my file graveyard forever. But out of curiosity, I revisited it and realized that while it definitely needed a re-write, that there were incredible bones and ideas in it. And with my newfound twenty-something wisdom (HA!), it was clear what changes needed to be made to turn the novel into something great. Hopefully we’re all growing and learning as writers as the years go by. However, that doesn’t mean you have to shun that book you “finished” five years ago. It may still have some legs, and (cue thunder crack) may not be finished at all!
- You Have Received Similar Feedback From Multiple People. This is a tough one. But often, in the midst of querying to agents, when you are certain the book is at its height of perfection (why else would you be submitting it?), you’ll be lucky enough to get specific feedback from an agent. It’s easy to say that their comment on pacing is due to a difference in opinion, and while you shouldn’t make changes based on everything you hear back (it is a subjective business), if you hear similar things about your book from more than one person, then it is definitely worth considering revisions. It hurts to backtrack while querying, especially when you thought you were so close to the finish line, but it is often the best thing for your work.
- Your Book Isn’t A Book. Though it is a difficult skill to obtain, knowing what format an idea should exist as is a difficult thing. I wrote a screenplay a few years ago and after getting feedback from some peers, came to realize that it worked so much better as a play than as a screenplay. Some ideas are best as plays or screenplays, as short stories or novels, as novellas or interactive puppet shows. It’s worth re-examining past projects that didn’t pan out, asking yourself if a different format would better suit the idea. Perhaps that rejected short story needs more room to breathe as a novel, or your troubled, forgotten novel is incredibly visual and would work as a screenplay. At the least, exploring ideas in different formats can open your mind to all-new possibilities for the project.
- Your Book’s Audience Needs to Be Adjusted. Perhaps it’s far simpler than turning your book into a full-length feature film. I had the epiphany recently that an adult fiction novel I had written is far better suited in the YA genre. Changing the target audience is worth considering, especially if you’re having a hard time finding agents that seem like a good fit for your work. If you have characters and content that teeter between Middle Grade and Young Adult, or between Young Adult or Adult, think about revising it so the book fits into a more appropriate age category. And if the story is otherwise strong, sometimes these changes aren’t quite as dramatic as chucking the whole thing and starting from scratch.
- Your Book Has Come Back From the Dead By Its Own Accord. If old manuscripts are finding their way out of locked drawers and onto your desk, maybe it’s time to succumb to them. Are forgotten files popping up on your computer? Are you waking up with paper cuts? Is a neglected character coming to you in dreams? There’s a good chance that project needs some sprucing up. No use ignoring it, a persistent writing project will haunt you no matter how hard you yell “I WAS DONE WITH YOU. YOU WERE FINSIHED.”
Happy cob-web dusting, revisiting and revising!
Follow Marissa on Twitter: @marissakmacy or check out her website, marissamacy.com for more of her work.