I just finished my first manuscript. For about the 55th time. The first time I wrote, “The End,” I was like, Oh my God! I’m done! I can’t believe I’m done! That was somewhere around two or three years ago, I think. I lost track.
After I completed my manuscript that initial time, I was excited to be finished. Excited that I had actually written my first book. Then I read it and I realized, even though I was finished, I wasn’t. Oh, sure, there were various typos and such, but I wondered if the story could be better.
The next step was giving it to other people to read: my very good friend; one of my sisters; and two of my nieces (who, affectionately became “Aunt Chris’s Book Club”). Giving a manuscript to someone is a lot like setting up close friends on a blind date: you really hope they hit it off because if they don’t, it’s going to be awkward later on.
Luckily, my matchmaking (and writing) skills, seemed to work out. They all loved the manuscript, but all also gave me useful feedback about what parts worked for them and what parts didn’t. So I revised it again. And again. And I got it in what I hoped was good enough shape to send out to an actual editor. I had the good fortune early on in the process to make a contact with an editor at a publishing house and she offered to read my manuscript once it was done. (THAT is a long story and a whole other blog.) After a few more rounds of reading and revisions, I thought, “This is it. I’m done.” And I sent it off to her.
She read it. She really liked it. Unfortunately, not enough to publish it. But enough to give me some very good feedback that really made me think about the flow of the story and how different events happened. So I revised. Again. And I gave it back to Aunt Chris’s Book Club, and got more feedback. And – you guessed it – revised it again.
By this point, I was no longer naïve enough to believe I was anywhere close to being finished. I got in touch with a former writing teacher and hired him to edit the book. Not proofread it, but really edit it, beyond the helpful but more general comments I had received up until that point.
And edit it he did. The first time I received marked up pages in the mail, I thought, “Well, I definitely got my money’s worth.” There was ink on every page. EVERY page. He commented on everything. Things he loved. Things he didn’t. Typos. Inconsistencies. Overused words and phrases. Plot structure. Character development. Dialogue. Everything. Each time I’d get pages in the mail, I’d read his comments, but I didn’t do anything because I knew I needed to look at all the comments as a whole before moving forward.
When I finally got the last marked up page in the mail, the page where it said, “The End,” I looked at the entirety of my marked up manuscript. Then I had a stiff drink. And then I proceeded to procrastinate for the next several weeks (or months – I may have had several stiff drinks) before doing anything with it. Because, I knew, yet again, “The End” was not “The End” but just the beginning of yet another major overhaul.
Eventually my ambition guilt finally took hold, and I started revising the manuscript. Some comments I agreed with and made changes to accommodate them. Some I didn’t. And then there were aspects of the story that didn’t bother my editor or any of my readers but from the very beginning they just didn’t sit right with me. Certain characters and where they fit into the story and how they affected its flow. I ended up cutting out major characters and scenes that had been with my story from the beginning. It was hard, but I think I finally understood that bible quote: “If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.” I doubt they were talking about a manuscript, but who knows? (Those guys WERE prolific writers.)
When I was finally “finished” with my manuscript (again), it went back to my beta readers for the umpteenth time. (Have I mentioned how much I appreciate these people?) And they all loved the changes! Great, so you think I’d be finished right? Wrong. Because, after the seemingly never ending process of revisions, I just never felt finished. I’d read it and find something to revise. And then read it again, and find something else to revise. Each time thinking I was done, and each time realizing I wasn’t.
Until today. Oh, I knew I had been getting close. I knew when I finally fixed all the major plot points that had been bothering me. And different pieces of dialogue that I didn’t love. And even the names of certain inconsequential characters. But this last time, when I found myself trying decide if I wanted to use the word “disgusted” or “repulsed” I kind of realized, you know, either one of those words will work. Now step away from the manuscript. You are done.
So I did. And I sent it off to my trusty editor to proofread. And I know, this time, when I see the ink, it will be so I can change things like “there” vs. “their,” or start a new paragraph or fix some quotation marks. And once I make those changes, I know it really will be, “The End.”