TOO many drafts? Don’t make me laugh . There’s a good reason the great Leonardo di Caprio… um… da Vinci said, Art is never finished, only abandoned. SO, how do you know when to leave your manuscript screaming its head off in a bassinet on the doorstep of an agent? I used to think the answer was WHEN YOU WANT TO VOMIT AT THE THOUGHT OF PERFORMING ANOTHER READ-THROUGH. I myself have reached this point MANY times—and, yet, in the writerly-spirit of self-flagellation, I keep coming back for MORE.
SO, in no particular order, here are my top tips on when you can hit SEND on a manuscript…
YOU HAVE NO MORE NIGGLING SCENES OR CHAPTERS IN YOUR MANUSCRIPT
These are the bits that make you go HMMM… when you perform a read-through. They’re the sentences or paragraphs or chapters I highlight to come back to later and then, after a month of editing, the lack of sunlight and bathing addles my brain to the point where I decide, NEAR ENOUGH, GOOD ENOUGH.
BUT, let me speak from experience—if those sections bother you now, then they’ll ABSOLUTELY bother you when your book is in bookstores—and, more to the point, they’ll probably bother your reviewers too.
SO, if you have a scene that falls flat or a character that gets under your skin for all the wrong reasons, fix it BEFORE you hit send.
YOU HAVE A NARRATIVE STRUCTURE
Even if you’re a pantser (someone who writes by the seat of their pants), your story should be following a reasonably standard narrative structure, like Freytag’s Pyramid: EXPOSITION > RISING ACTION > CLIMAX > FALLING ACTION>DENOUEMENT. For those plotters out there (you know who you are) the structure may align with the Hero’s Journey or the Three Act Structure (THE SET UP>THE CONFRONTATION>THE RESOLUTION). Or a mix of structures—you’d be surprised (or not) at how closely the wide variety of narrative structures resemble each other (I’ll write about all of this in another post). Following a narrative structure will help with your pacing and your character arc, both of which can pretty much MAKE or BREAK a story.
SOMEONE HAS READ IT AND PROVIDED FEEDBACK
Be wary of beta readers who say: I LOVED EVERY SINGLE WORD, SPACE, PUNCTUATION MARK. Unless they’re your clone and likes EVERYTHING you like (and even then…), there has to be SOMETHING that bothered them about your manuscript.
While you DON’T want them to tear your manuscript (and your heart) into a million different pieces, you DO want them to find the plot holes, spelling errors, etc. before an agent or a publisher.
Contrary to popular belief, I think it’s FINE for your beta reader to be a friend or relative—as long as they’re going to give you honest-to-goodness advice (but not TOO honest. I firmly believe bad news should ALWAYS be dipped in a jar of honey before being served up).
I’ve personally got a go-to friend who strikes the perfect balance between being a cheerleader and a critic. She pushes me outside of my comfort zone, but doesn’t leave me curled up in a foetal position on the ground, questioning my life choices.
YOU’VE SPENT TIME AWAY FROM IT
I’m not talking popping down to the shops to restock your Iced Vo Vos (oh God, now I want some Iced Vo Vos BAD). I mean AT LEAST a month or even TWO of not looking at your manuscript before reading it again. This will let you look at it with fresh eyes, rather than feeling as though you know every word by heart (did you know your brain inserts words that aren’t there when you know what a sentence is MEANT to say?). You may also find fixing those hmmm-parts I mentioned earlier easier after a brain break.
Of course, once you have an agent or an editor there’s bound to be MORE editing… SO, there you have it: my top tips for knowing when you’re done with a manuscript! Are there any other things you would suggest doing? If so, leave me a comment!