Friday, December 3, 2010

The End. Or is it?

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?


Dan - Friday


  1. I don´t. I really don´t know. And perhaps they haven´t been, and that is why I haven´t sold any of them yet.

    So to make sure I get that great feeling and an opportunity to celebrate, I always do it when I put the full stop after the first draft.

  2. Congratulations Dan on finishing!

    Being in the same boat earlier this week I think now you should go celebrate...but that's a conundrum, I keep thinking back of things to change, to add, a missed something...never done but what's it's gone. It's gone. Your boat is different so I imagine you're got time to tinker.

  3. There must be an "are we finished yet bug" running though the MIE blog pool. I literally just finished five minutes ago what "could be" a "done draft" of Andreas Kaldis' fourth adventure. But then again...


  4. I am embroidering flowers on the tapestry of my latest while my agent reads it. It is 'done' because the story is told, but I am revisiting research and inserting little details here and there as I find tidbits that did not make it into the 'final' rewrite: not just a hawk skimming overhead for a character's eyes to follow, but a particular species of hawk. Not just any type of carriage bringing the Marical's consort to the remote village, but a landau. Touches that I hope will enhance the intensity of the reader's experience of Paraguay in 1868. Otherwise, that next book is finished, at least until my agent or my editor weigh in with their take on what it still may need.

    Yet, even while I delight in these last visits to people and places I have been so intimately involved with for the past two years, another story is beginning the form itself in a new space building in my imagination. People are starting to appear. Car headlights are picking out detail as characters drive home on a dark road.
    I hope the agent and the editor will tell me they are taking away that 'finished' palpable fictional place where my mind has been dwelling, so I can get in that car with the new characters and find out the truth of where THEY are going.

  5. Thanks all - I'm full of a cold today, picked up from one of my kids. The ways parenthood keeps giving...

    I'm with you Dorte - just completing a draft should be enough to celebrate. Then you can celebrate when your editor says yes; and when it hits the shelves. Each step is worth marking, for each book. Otherwise, what's the point?

    Thanks Cara - I'm sure I will tinker but Annamaria makes a good point - you need some form of closure to clear the mind for the next story. Plus, let's face it, you reach a stage when you're heartily sick of a book and its characters.

    Jeffrey, maybe we could call the blog 'Murder is Everywhere (or at least will be when we're done)?