Wednesday, February 1, 2012

When are you ~finished~ with your book?

Q: When are you finished with your book?

A: Not even when you die.

Many authors celebrate the completion of their novel after the first draft. A fine example of this fictionalization is Stephen King's Misery, where his MC lights a cigarette and has a glass of wine following the last page of his first draft.

I think we are all smart enough to know the first draft is not your finishing point.

But how about after your first revision?

Again, most of us know you'll at least need two good passes to produce a readable manuscript.

How about after the editor gets through destroying everything you wrote, gutting you like the little fishy you are and feeding your guts to the gulls and laughing as she rips out your spine!

Well, it might sound like you're finished, but you're not. If the book goes to publication, you're just getting started. See, you'll have marketing to work on, and readings, and reviews, and so forth.

So maybe you're finished with that book after it's been in print a few years, right?


Again, we'll go back to King and I'll mention that I only recently read his book 'salem's Lot.

That was his second book, originally published in 1975, and as you can see, he's still not finished with it!

Alright, what about this: You DIE.

Are you finished with your book then?

Nope. A fine example of this is Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land.

His original draft had been cut from 220kw to 160kw.* After his death, they found his original in his archives, as submitted to the publisher, and released it as "THE ORIGINAL UNCUT VERSION of the bestselling classic."

So even if you die, you might not be finished with your book.

There have been endless rewrites of Dickens' A Christmas Carol, and of Shakespeare's plays, and of Homer's work, and you can keep going on and on and on if you like, but I feel my point is driven home.

The fact is this: You are ~never~ finished with your book. Your book is borne into the world and will live on with a life of its own.

As someone once said, I never finish my work. At some point, I just stop working on it.

How about you? Thoughts on this point? Do you feel like you are "finished" with one of your pieces?

- Eric

* Source: Stranger in a Strange Land forward, reprint 1991


EC said...

Funny post. I used to have the mindset that at some point I would be finished with a book, when it was published. But that 'published' book still isn't finished. The sequel is coming and I want to revamp it, change the cover, etc.
Now, I can totally see that when I'm dead, hell it might not even be finished then either!


Laura Josephsen said...

Ha! Yeah, I don't think I'm ever totally finished with my books...there's always something to do with them even after they're published (marketing, etc). I think it's just a matter of finding a balance and being able to step forward and move on to the next project, too.

Roland D. Yeomans said...

When are you finished with your children, Eric? Never, right? Our books in a very sense are our "children of our minds, our souls." And when are we finished with our minds, our souls?

Great post, Roland

Anonymous said...

I never looked at it quite this way before. Though I think it depends on whether or not your book survives physically. I suspect much great writing has been lost in fires or some such thing.

I really enjoyed this post. Thanks!
Ann Best, Author of In the Mirror & Other Memoirs

Phoenix said...

It's interesting, I am a big "finisher", which is that I get a lot of satisfaction out of finishing and completing projects, and writing is always difficult for me because of that. I have to finally walk away from the things I've written, instead of endlessly revising, and think of it as a time capsule that accurately records the person I was at the exact moment when I finished that living, breathing draft.

But no, we are never finished.

dolorah said...

Why don't you just cheer me up Eric :)

Actually, I have a published short story in an e-zine, and sometimes I wonder if anyone has ever read it - besides the publisher. I'd say that story is definitely finished :)

I hope your book is never finished, by these standards. I can see a future generation sitting in an English class and groaning as the teacher brings out your novel and instructs the class to write a three page essay on what the author meant by this passage or that section. "Why did the author feel the need to have his MC write "Percy was here" in the moon dust?"



Wine and Words said...

Q: When are you finished with yourself?

A: When you die.

Q: And when will that be?

A: When you are finished.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Our writing is like a living thing - always growing, always changing. As you pointed out, it might never be finished.

Pearson Report said...

What I find frustrating is when someone comes along, takes an old classic, attempts to write a sequel (which has very little to do with the original), uses their own voice (not that of the author) and then wonders why no one enjoyed it.

Once we put something on paper and send it out to the universe it remains unfinished forever.

Great post.
Jenny @ Pearson Report
Co-Host of the Blogging from A to Z Challenge.