How to Really Write That Book (The Finishing Touch) – Part 3

The Finale

You’ve put words on a page. Thousands of them and hundreds of lines. Take a minute to look at the word count at the bottom of your screen. Yes. You did this. And just like standing on top of a mountain after months, perhaps even years, of diligent practice and conditioning…after you snap your photo, you have to return to base camp or risk hypoxia, exposure or death, depending on the heights you have ascended.

Finishing the first draft of your first book is likewise exhilarating so take a picture! Then put the camera away and come on back because life still needs you to participate in the next phase.

There is a phrase in Vipassana meditation that becomes a mantra over the ten days of silent meditation. It Rises and Falls. The meaning is meant to remind the meditator that whatever the sensation, thought, feeling, or physical experience, it will eventually end. In the West we say, “This too shall pass.” Everything is temporary, the only permanent thing is change and flux, so in the writerly life, it’s a good thing to accept, or at least begin to accept.

As a young writer, I used to loathe the concept of revision. This was partially due to a sense of the ticking clock we all face, i.e. the uncertainty of life, and partially due to a latent fear that if I had to re-read my creation again and again, I would be forced to accept that I was mediocre at best. Oh how I wanted to stay wrapped in the protective blanket of willful self-ignorance. It was scary enough to write a poem let alone to ruthlessly edit it.

Letting an unedited book into the world is like sending your kid to the first day of school naked and covered in poop. Not fair at all. You’ve put tons of time and effort into growing, birthing, and nurturing your progeny (kid or book) so show some pride in your work and give it the best chance it has at succeeding.

This is your final step in writing that book. After you have executed the final period, do this and then repeat the process as necessary for your future novels, poetry books, and children’s tales ad infinitum.

Let it rest, for a week, or two, or three. Just put it somewhere cozy and walk away. Don’t stop writing, mind you. Keep those Morning Pages or blog posts or SOMETHING moving your hand across the keys, but don’t touch that manuscript. After the self-appointed amount of time, sit down and start editing. (I was more a one-weeker, but I have been known to get into obsessive states and lose perspective in the midst of extreme focus. Not super enjoyable for other family members and friends so take a hint from my hard won experience and dial it down a notch.)

There are many different ways to approach this, but I advocate doing a complete read through first and catching the major technical things that jump out, like unfinished sentences, wrong words, or egregiously misspelled words…but don’t touch the overall plot/flow. Just take notes in a notebook as you go so you can mull over solutions once you’ve finished the first read-through. This should not take days. Do it in as few sessions as possible so the overall impact is fresh.

Set it down again. Give it a week. Then back at it for the plot/structure edits. You can take some time on this but give yourself goals. Specific ones, like, “I’ll re-work one chapter per day.” Whatever you think your allotted time can allow for. You’ll likely be balancing another job, relationship, kids, and responsibilities that require a fair amount of time, so be gentle with yourself while remembering that perseverance is key, even if you resemble the tortoise more than the hare. We all recall who won the race, so take comfort in that if your goal seems like it’ll take you a year to complete the re-write.

When that’s done, put it down again and take a couple weeks break. Do things that move you. Listen to some live music. Take a hike. Bake bread. Have a barbecue. But keep writing at least a sentence a day. When your holiday is at an end, run back through it for a technical proof-read and start looking for readers.

Go for a mix of supporters and critics. I say family and friends first to get the positive mojo going, and then locate some writers’ groups. You could simultaneously start sending out excerpts to literary journals to test the waters, but I’d wait until you’ve had some feedback from the fan section first.

Read that last paragraph again. It is there because you REALLY WROTE A BOOK. Now go, do it again, you manifesting wizard!

Jaime Mathis grew up half feral, half in a cult, in the countryside near Oregon City, Oregon. Without books she would have gone pure Tarzan and hence, thanks literature for both sanity and social skills. After travelling the world and picking up a husband in Spain, she returned like a salmon to her spawning grounds where she now resides with 13 chickens, a son and her Dane. You can see her work in places like FORTH MagazineDirty Chai, and The Flexible Persona.

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