It's been a busy week, so just a brief blog this week (one of these days I will learn to stockpile blogs in advance for days like this, though I doubt it). Here's a question:
How do you know when you've finished your book?
I mean writing it, of course. It's been in my mind at the moment as I finish my latest (or is it already finished?) Due to the curious circumstances I find myself in, where there isn't a publisher to whom I'm contracted demanding it this minute - usually I would say the book is finished on the day you send it because to delay any longer would breach your contract - I can decide myself when it's done. And it's not that easy. Let's face it, most writers who pick up their earlier works all wince a bit about how they could have done it better, or think of a better way to have written a scene, or a plot improvement, the minute the manuscript is officially handed over.
So here I am with a manuscript. I'm reasonably happy with it. I can easily keep going through it and finding things wrong with it, and corrections to be made, ad infinitum. In an ideal world, I suppose I would shelve it for a few weeks, walk away do something else, read some books, clear my mind of the characters, and return to it afresh. Do that three or four times and it would probably benefit the book, though there is chance much of it could be fiddled out of existence. Rewriting is good, essential, but it can go too far and something can be lost. I tend to go for quantity first, and go back and tidy and tie up afterwards. But how far should the tidying and tying go on for? There are editors for that, after all.
And this has all set me thinking about whether we might reach a time where books are never really finished. For example, say I make my book available electronically. Should I come up with a better ending one day, is there anything stopping me rewriting it and making it available the next day? There's this article (the 'bestselling' author quoted sure knows his onions, eh?) which indicates the technology will soon be available to update a book, even once its in the hands of the reader. My first instinct, as a reader, not a writer, is to think that when I cough up my hard-earned cash for a work I'd like it to be the author's best shot at it, not a rough draft he aims to improve upon. I can't say I'd be queuing up to read the book by the German well known author who wants the reader to mix and match chapters, either (plus it's been done in print form - it didn't work).
So, when do you know its done? The question applies to most aspects of writing - articles, screenplays, as well as other arts like painting and sculpture. When's the time you open a can of beer and kick back and celebrate a job well done? Or at least a job done?