It’s the first Monday in July, when I open this blog to your questions about writing. They can be on creative, craft or business matters. For starters, here’s a common question: what happens after you finish a book?
As I write this, I’m in the best possible place – at the end of a new book. Even more importantly, I’m at the end of a 300,000 word trilogy, my Beacons series for Corvallis Press, Oregon.
As of last night, all the tales have been told, the loose endings wrapped up, and the big finish I wanted for the series is definitely there.
Fittingly, it’s also just after the Fourth of July for my American friends. Although I’m in Australia, my book had fireworks and lots of celebration. As it should be. As suspense writer, Lawrence Block, put it in his excellent book, Writing the Novel from Plot to Print, no one brings your manuscript a squeaky toy, as they do when a baby is born. More often, you finish in a haze of exhaustion and surrounded by catch-up work screaming to be done.
Yet writing “the end” doesn’t mean the book is truly finished. There’s anything from a few months to a few years’ worth of work remaining. Sometimes a book is never done. Among the 83 books I’ve written, one still niggles because of a glitch in the opening chapter.
The title is among my most popular, although no reader has noticed the issue and I’ve had no emails, but the niggle bothers me to this day. I’m in good company. Hemingway was said to hang around the presses as a new book came off, wanting to make changes even at that stage.
So what are the four things you need to do after writing the end?
1. Step away from the manuscript.
Perfect though it looks now, there will be flaws. Sometimes continuity issues, questions, typos, facts to check, and the writing to polish. Now is not the time. Bathed in the beatific glow of having written, we’re too close to the work to be objective. Give yourself all the time you can to separate yourself from the material, then put on your editor hat and revisit the work. You’ll be astonished what sneaked through in the interim.
2. Catch up with everything you neglected
I once asked the amazing Nora Roberts what she does between books. She told me she ploughs through all the tasks that piled up while she was writing, catches up with friends and family, then she wanders around the house, wondering what people do with their time when they don’t write. And she starts writing again.
I won’t depress you with how fast she goes through this cycle, but it’s obvious from the quantity and quality of her output. Some writers need more time between books than others. Take what you need, and start writing again only when you’re ready.
3. Get a life
William Shatner made this phrase famous when he did a comedy skit on Saturday Night Live, reminding Star Trek fans that it was “only a television show” and they should get a life outside their favourite program. The same can be said of writing. Unless we have lives outside writing, sooner or later we end up writing about writers. You need balance in your life. I’ve seen the areas recommended as work, family, spiritual and personal wellbeing. Between books is a good time to assess where your life is and what needs more attention.
4. Start dreaming
Most writers have more ideas than we know what to do with. Between books is the perfect time to let your imagination run wild. What book calls you to write it next? What marvelous idea fills you with excitement? It isn’t enough to start writing because you feel you must, or you’ve goofed off long enough. Your idea should drag you to the computer, desperate to capture the lightning. Play with your ideas. Read, think, explore, scribble notes. Scribble more notes. When the scribbling won’t stop, you’re ready to start again.
What do you do between projects? How do you know when a new book is ready for attention? Comment using the box below. I moderate comments to avoid spam. If you want your comment to appear right away, sign up using the button at lower right. I don’t share your email addresses with anyone.
Meanwhile, I have a life to catch up on. Happy writing.