You know, it’s surprising how often you can “finish” one manuscript.
I mean, first you actually finish writing down the story and that is of course HIGHLY SATISFYING and totally means you deserve a pint or two of best-quality double-chocolate fudge brownie ice cream.
For me, the first finished rough draft is pretty well revised and polished, but I almost always want to cut 10,000 to 40,000 words (seriously! sometimes even more!) plus I have probably accumulated about 30 notes-to-self about various trivial-to-difficult things I need to add / change / reevaluate in the manuscript. Like, if somebody uses a snazzy magical item in the penultimate scene, I better go back and add that item into earlier scenes as well, right? That is very easy. Or if someone is bald, I may need to make sure he is bald all the way through the story, which is also easy but very tedious as I’m going to have to check for baldness through all his scenes.
Once I’ve finished taking care of all these notes, I’m finished for the second time. I can’t say that I feel that finishing this minor pain-in-the-neck revision really deserves ice cream, but certainly a nice piece of extremely dark chocolate. (Everything deserves a piece of extremely dark chocolate!)
If I’m not working on a deadline, the best thing to do after that is set the manuscript aside for several weeks or a month and then read through it again from the top and make any substantive changes that seem necessary and polish everything up. That’s where I am now! Finished for the third time!
The major thing I did last night was take the long (30 page) last chapter, read it carefully, find natural points at which it divided, cut out the middle, carefully change the point-of-view for that section, and put it back in. I thought I might add a short additional tie-off-the-loose-ends chapter at the end, but dividing up the last chapter is what I decided to do instead after reading it veeerry carefully and slowly, and I think it worked.
Tonight I will read this chapter over one more time — hope I still think it works — tweaking as necessary. I think I want to make a minor change to one earlier scene and then a related small change to the last little bit of the story. Then I will quit messing with it because at this point I am going to want objective critiques from a couple of readers.
A good critique is very important, but just as important is a simple, plain, “Yes, I like it, it works for me, I loved this one scene and this other scene and that’s a great character and both the characters work for me” — in other words, praise! It’s fine if a reader says that a particular scene didn’t work for her or she doesn’t believe a character would have done thus-or-so or the world is confusing because of this-and-that. What matters here is the over all YES IT WORKS summation. It is hard for me to be sure a story DOES work — and I need to feel good about the story to do the NEXT revision, which I hope won’t involve much.
Then! Off to my agent, who will provide a critique oriented toward commercial viability (very important! Not what my readers can do!) and thence, we hope, to a home at a nice solid imprint at a good publishing house.
After which I will have a chance to “finish” the manuscript AGAIN after editorial comments.
Even after a book hits the shelves, you know, the revision process isn’t necessarily OVER over. I have, right here at this moment, five pages of copy-editor suggestions for the omnibus version of The Griffin Mage trilogy, which will come out in the fall.