How do you know when your story is finished? One thing is certain: a story is most definitely NOT finished on 1 December right after the NaNoWriMo hoopla.
This question has plagued me ever since I started writing seriously. And I think that word—seriously—is the thing. In fact, IMHO, the difference between a hobby-writer and a serious writer is the latter is willing to rewrite. And rewrite and rewrite until the writing is right.
But when it is it right? How far does a writer have to go? How many rewrites does it take? When (how!) do you stop? My most recent project has had at least twenty beginnings. Not just ideas or sketches—full-on beginnings, some with minor changes, most with drastic reimagining. I probably wrote more than 100,000 words of beginnings and many middles and ends too.
When Is It Time To Stop?
Is there a way to know when it’s time to release the story to the world? It’s a relief to find it’s a common quandary. One Google search (‘How do you know when your story is finished?’) threw up 14,000,000 results (in .61 seconds).
Some of the common answers included:
- Trust your gut.
- Stop when you can’t stand to look at it another time.
- When it stops waking you up in the middle of the night, it’s done.
- Time to quit when your ‘improvements’ have a negative impact.
- There’s a fine line between attaining your best and not pissing off your editor.
- And so on.
Stop when all the ghost-kinks have been exorcised. For me, ghost-kinks are writing problems I don’t want to see. On some level I know they are there, but it’s as if I have blinkers on. I skirt around them instead of tackling them. I ignore them hoping they’ll evaporate. They bother me, but I pretend they don’t.
Usually, sadly, someone else has to point at them.
Someone Else: “Um Ali, omg, there’s a massive ghost-kink hanging out here. Geez, it’s enormous! Maybe you should, like, do something about it?”
Me: Oh, yeah. Right. I was just … excuse me … [Shoves ghost-kink back into closet and slams door]. It’s all good. Nothing to look at in here.
Someone Else: But what about that ghost? It’s pretty scary… Seriously? You can’t hear that banging or smell that funky smell? Far out…
Me: What? There’s a ghost-kink? Let me see! [Peeks in closet] OMG! Would you look at the SIZE of that ghost-kink! BRB…
And having thus ‘discovered’ my ghost-kink(s), I take it (them) on. I stop kidding myself and start culling some stuff—even good stuff. We’re talking full-scale Darlingocide. A busyness detox.
Despite the utter violence of the toil, the results feel great. Like the way people must feel after a sauna +ice hole swim combo or a seven-day silent retreat or liver cleanse. But it’s the work, the writing, that feels better. Not your body. At the end of it, your body feels crap—cricked and sore and ancient.
Never mind the stiff neck, you know your MS is finally right. And that’s exciting.
That’s when I release my story.
Setting My Paper Boat Afloat
After a year of working on one manuscript exclusively, The Temple of Lost Time, I have finally achieved a sense of ‘rightness’ about the MS. It’s book one of a trilogy, so getting the foundation right is essential.
I was the lucky winner of a 2017 Australian Society of Authors Emerging Writers Mentorship, and I chose author-poet-editor-teacher Catherine Bateson to mentor me and make me face my ghost-kinks. It was an incredible learning and growing experience. Catherine patiently helped me improve my storytelling, honing in on the skilful use of third-person limited POV and strengthening story logic. She was so generous with her time and expertise.
This week, I let go of the project. I released a stronger, funner MS. Part of me feels like it’s a tiny paper boat bobbing in a great big sea, but I am optimistic that it will find its way in the world.
How about you?
How do you know when your MS is ready to be released to the marketplace/world?