What You Need to Do to Finish Writing Your Book

Before you have a printed book, you have a manuscript. In my first article I talked about how a manuscript is a specialized document used by three types of people: authors, editors, and layout designers. In my second article I talked about how to get to grips with MS Word to make working with those people easier.

Of course, both of these topics carry an underlying assumption—that you have finished your manuscript and have begun working with someone else. “Handing over” your manuscript doesn’t describe just a transfer of paperwork, as we will see in this article, it describes a change of mental state on the author’s part.

“So, what does ‘finish writing’ mean?”

At this point, you might want to pause to feel a little nervous.

A finished manuscript is one where the writing is done, over, completed, ended, stopped, ceased…shall I go on?

I’m not saying every word is fixed in stone. There will be changes—from the editing, from the proofing, and even from the layout, but not from the author changing his mind about content.

Think of finishing your manuscript as a milestone. Once you reach it, one part of the journey is over, a new part begins. The second part involves no writing; writing only happens in the first part.

Your writing should be finished before you hand over anything to your editor. You want to avoid an editor having to say, “Really, I can’t fix this and you can’t publish it as is.” If that does happen, go back to your early readers and say “You should have told me.”

What if I find a problem?

Make sure you find any problems before you start the publishing process, while you are still writing.

If the editing is finished and then you say, “Oh, I’ve decided to rewrite seven chapters,” that’s fine. You’ll just have to pay twice. (Sometimes the editor will tell you, “You need to rewrite seven chapters,” but that’s well worth paying for.)

If your manuscript has been proofread and you then decide to rewrite, you’ll pay the editor and the proofreader twice.

If your book has been laid out and you do the same thing, you’ll pay the editor, the proofreader and the layout designer twice.

It’s your choice, of course, but your goal is to arrive at the “finished” milestone with completed content.

A word of warning at the start of your journey… Beware of anyone offering a service whereby, from the comfort of your writing den, without seeking help from anyone else, you can “publish at the touch of a button.”

You need milestones. You need others at each part of your journey.

Reaching the “Finished” Milestone

Anne Lamott, in Bird by Bird, famously talks about the stages your work will go through before your manuscript is finished. Her phrase “shitty first draft” should be preprinted on stationary and watermarked in online files specifically reserved for that purpose. You should never forget where you are in your process.

She goes on to describe the rewriting to create the second, third, and further drafts. When was it you wanted to press that button marked “Publish Now!”?

Early Readers

You want some of these. Be careful, though, what you make them read. Spare them the first draft. Anne Lamott chose her adjective well.

Writers Groups

If you’re not part of a writers group, start one. If other members of the group do nothing other than prevent you pressing the “Publish Now!” button too early, it’s all worth it.

Critique Groups

Not everyone needs to be part of a critique group. However, if you don’t need one, maybe some of the other writers there need you.

Warning! Be careful which draft you ask to be critiqued. The earlier the draft, the more bruising the critique will be.

Early readers, other writers, and critiquers help you write.

Editors, proofreaders, and layout designers help you publish.

Writing is such a lonely profession, isn’t it? 😉

Your work-in-progress can only be a manuscript when you finish writing. It’s up to you to decide when that happens. Some authors find they have arrived at this milestone only when they are so sick of their writing that they cannot stand to make one more change.

Don’t forget your book will include more than the first to last chapters. The Chicago Manual of Style lists also: Half title, frontispiece, Title Page, Copyright Page, Dedication, Epigraph, Table of Contents, List of Illustrations, Foreword, Preface, Acknowledgments, Introduction, and List of Abbreviations, as some of the items that you might have in your front matter. In your back matter, you might include: Appendixes, Chronology, Endnotes, Glossary, Bibliography or reference list, List of Contributors and, perhaps, an index.

Everything you include in the printed book has to be included in your “finished” manuscript because it has to be edited, proofread and laid out.

Indexes are a separate activity and require certain technical skills. Read up about it, then hire someone.

Let it Go

Sing along now…

It may be one of the toughest things you will ever do: saying “I am done.”

There’s a phrase in journalism: “Publish and be damned!” Well, when you publish you run a risk. It’s a big risk. Something—a typo, a wrong name, an out-of-sequence event, clumsy adjectives or adverbs, and other more nightmarish errors—might make it through to the printed page.

Face your fear. Accept the risk.

Stop writing, changing, fiddling, second guessing, and take the consequences.

Finish writing your book. Make the mental shift. Let it go.

That’s when you hand over a manuscript to your editor and start the publishing part of your journey.

I know it’s not easy. But you are not alone.

Book collectors with first editions of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings will be able to show you sections where the great man fixed things between the first printing and the next. If, as an Indie Author, you are printing offset, you’ll want to sell the couple of thousand copies of your grand opus in boxes in your garage before you fix the text. POD authors have the luxury of being able to make changes, usually for a fee. That, however, does not excuse you from finishing your book.

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