Wednesday, September 18, 2013

How to Know When Your Novel is Ready

Hey all, Ellie here!
One of the biggest pet peeves I have with the modern writing and publishing industry is that things get published too early. People talk about how hard it is to get a book published, about slogging through piles or rejection letters, about how to write a selling query, about how self-publishing or whatever is the best, and about how to silence the inner critic. They have a problem, but the wrong one.
People want to publish their book now.
But most of the time if they'd just listen to what was actually said by the critics (publishers or the inner one) and took another sheet of paper and wrote their novel again, it'd be better.
What I'm talking about is all those novels, especially debut ones, that I read and end up finding something missing. The plot was a little too patchy. The characters were flat. That little undefinable thing I like to call pacing was off.
The more I read novels and read about how they are written and published, the more I see that the problem is that the writer finished too soon. Their work wasn't done, it wasn't good enough, not yet; but they listened to all the crappy writing handbooks out there that said critics can never be satisfied, so don't listen to them, and that the traditional publishing industry is slow, so don't listen to to it, and nonetheless found some odd creepy niche to put their book in print and went on their merry way.
I could rant on this for days, but I'll leave talking about the publishing industry and why self-publishing is (usually) crap for later.

Today I'm going to talk about how to know when your novel is done.
Because no matter what the handbooks say, no matter how much some writing challenge got you to your goal of x number of words, no matter how good you feel about it now, your book probably is not done. If it doesn't meet these requirements, don't publish it! If you get even one piece of highly-critical advice, don't publish it! If you've gotten rejected too many times in the traditional publishing realm, don't go and self-publish it! Instead: sit down, take a fresh sheet of paper and write down everything you feel or people say is missing or wrong with your novel. Then take another piece and start afresh.

Okay, so you may ask, who are you to talk about this? Well, I reply, only a girl who has spent 6 years writing one one and only one novel (12 years from the original idea), but now, finially, after 11 drafts, is finished.
No I'm not actually done with the writing. I'm only about 1/2 of the way through that. But appropriating this last chunk of work I have a new feeling: one of being done. I'm satisfied with it. My readers are more than satisfied with it, and except for a few grammatical changes, have had no negative things to say with that first half.
So I sat down to think over why I feel that this is the last and final draft. Why I know that I'm done, that my story is perfect, and why, as soon as I take a week or two and finish the actual writing, I'll be ready to publish.

So, here are a few of the things I feel need to be in place before you should consider your story finished:

1. You feel satisfied.
No matter what random self-help writing books you've read that blither on about how you will never be satisfied with your work, feeling completely, 100% happy about it is essential. You know best what you want to see in print with your name on it looks like, so when your work-in-progress is just as vivid, paced, and lovely as you dreamed it would be, you are done.

2. The ciritics are satisified.
Okay, so in my case, no publishing being undertaken yet, my only critics are a mixed group of 15-20 friends and teacher who have read my book. Earlier drafts left me with comments like "Great start... can't wait to see where you take this" or "You have a few fun characters, or this one scene was great" or whatever. But this most recent draft has come back with comments like "I like the plot and characters a lot!" and "I'm really anticipating what's going to happen when I read more. You've made me sympathize with the characters". Basically, there should be no comments from any section that state that the plot as a whole was lacking, or that any character, minor or not, was flat. If you have the critics satisfied, the reader will be too.

3. Stop and look: can you remember it?
Due to the pressures of life and the fact that I don't write good in small time spans, I've had to take numerous breaks from my work. Some of these have been months in length. Over the years I'd find myself coming back to writing scratching my head, trying to remember where I left off. Maybe that was because I hadn't spent as much time as I have  now it that world, but I think it was more because the stories themselves weren't engrossing. Even I couldn't remember the finer points of what happened, or they got muddled with earlier drafts. But this time (today, actually, and the reason for this post) I returned to my novel after 4 months with not a single world written, completely excited to write, the stories still fresh in my head, and my plans for what happens next as fresh as if that break was only 4 days. The story had stuck with me. The character's goals, dreams and hopes were real. I knew how it has to unfold without any doubts. My plot flows. It settles in well. It is memorable. And finished.

So, did your supposedly 'done' novel come up lacking? Sit down, think of where you have fallen short with that one, and start afresh. (Never, ever 'polish' or rework old stuff until you have the whole plot and characters down perfectly. Too much of a muddle... You can't resurrect a book with a bad plot by reworking a few scenes, can you?)
I'm sure there is more that could be said to finding out if you are ready to be done (in fact I had more points, but they were a little superfluous). But nonetheless, I think I've proved my point. Don't stop until it's perfect.
Until that point, keep writing.

And don't worry, I'm living proof that you can get there. I went from writing crap I though was cool, to crap I knew wasn't cool, to writing beauty and power that amazed even my own dreams.

So take your time, take your year or two (or six!). Don't stop until it's really finished.


  1. Agreed with Morgan, this is a great post! I wish Veronica Roth had read this before publishing Allegiant.