Write well. Write often. Edit wisely.
So exciting, isn’t it, to reach that point in a novel where you type THE END and push away from your desk with a groan or a sigh or a roarin’ approximation of the Rebel yell?
You’ve completed your novel. The story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. And you want to bask, just a moment, of course, in the relief and excitement of a job well done.
The job isn’t done. Yes, the first draft is finished, in all its unwieldy glory. But your job as creator isn’t finished. Certainly, your job as editor and rewriter has not yet begun. And your newest masterpiece is ready for neither the public nor your most enthusiastic admirers.
It really isn’t.
You hoped yours would be different, didn’t you? You hoped you’d do in one draft what takes the rest of us four or six or a dozen.
Not gonna happen. Not even if you’re the slowest writer who edits as she writes, painstakingly correcting and changing and deleting and adding…
A novel—a quality work of fiction—requires more than a single pass. More than two.
We need to correct plot errors and logic errors and simple errors in word choice. We must condense on one side and fill out on the other.
We need to tighten threads that jolt readers’ emotions and cut out the thread we introduced on page 27 but forgot to continue through the rest of the story.
We must combine characters who serve only one scene and give extended life to the character whose actions offer motivation for our main character.
We polish and cut and rearrange and fuss and fume and laugh and cry and cut some more and add a side plot and rip out our hero’s monologue that makes us cry but does nothing to advance the main plot.
When we type THE END, we’ve reached a resting point, a place where we can breathe, where we remember we have families and spouses and friends, maybe roses that need pruning and cars that need new tires. We can enjoy the non-fictional world and solve problems for those in our lives who bleed blood rather than ink.
When we’ve rested. And recharged. And made peace with family and friends…
Then we head back into our fictional world and attack our words and phrases with the ardor and the mental acuity of a general who knows exactly how best to move and position his troops to ensure victory. We check out the surroundings and the people we have to work with and we examine timelines, knowing we must get the right flank into place within a particular time frame.
I won’t say that THE END is just the beginning, because it’s very, very far from that. But it’s often, in terms of time and the work still to be done, even farther from the true end.
Revel in the joy of finishing your manuscript. Celebrate the accomplishment. But take out your red pen with that same joy and take another pass—or ten—through your story. Don’t leave it before it’s truly finished.
Make sure THE END doesn’t act as a stop sign to your enthusiasm or to your true goal. Finish the story. Give your rewrites as much time as they need.
Stop when the story is complete, when you’ve succeeded at the writer’s task of penning the best story you’re capable of writing at this stage of your career.
Then THE END will be