Letting a Novel Go

Writing a draft of a novel is no easy task. Whether your book is 60,000 or 120,000 words long, many people who sit down and try to finish a book never make it that far. When someone accomplishes that first draft for the very first time, the euphoria of the moment often blinds them to the real work ahead of them.

Drafting a novel is easy.

Completing a novel is hard.

I have discussed the work that goes into a novel after drafting is completed before. But, what I didn't talk about was what happens after all of these things are finished: Letting the novel go.

There comes a point where it is time to send the novel out into the world and let it go. Last night, I did the final grammar and spelling checks on The Eye of God. This is the last stage of the editing process. It went to the professional I hired to handle formatting last night, along with the copyright and dedication pages.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

Being able to finally turn and walk away from the drafting, rewriting, and editing of this novel came as a huge relief. From start to finish, it has taken me almost six months of daily work to complete the book.

Editing took up the majority of the time. The first edit was the structural rewrite, to implement my new style and improve the basic story. I did this with a good old pen and paper. This is part of why my ISBN block holder and imprint name is Pen and Page Publishing. For the curious, you can find the fan-related stuff about my books on this site.

A lot of the ‘magic' of working on a novel does happens when I have a real pen in my hand. After rewriting the novel, I edited it again during the transcription process. This is where I fixed up all of the basic mistakes I could find while typing the novel so I could work with it in a digital format.

That was a lot of work. Several months worth of work, hunched over a desk and scribbling like some fiend after a delicious and tasty treat. It was fun. I enjoyed it. (Even when I had a bad day and I didn't.)

But, the real work was just beginning. Once I got all of that handwritten work into the computer, I did another round of editing. Rinse and repeat.

I finished, and the hope of being done was shattered when I realized I had made a notable error in how I handled a certain element of my writing style.

Three days before it was due, I edited the entire book, by hand and on the computer.

That final editing run took me 31 hours.

Once finished, my brain reeling at how much work I had done between Friday, Sunday, and Monday, I did the final spell and grammar check.

All of my hard work and effort paid off. This came as a bit of a shock to me. Word had very little to say to me. Most of the things it flagged was dialogue, where grammar rules are often ignored for the sake of the character. Spelling errors were names not registered in my dictionary.

No single scene had more than five actual errors.

This is a major accomplishment for me. Why? It proved there was benefit to my hard work.

When I finished checking the last scene, it was time to let the novel go. Honestly, I expected it to be a lot harder to convert the file to the appropriate format for my formatting whiz, but it wasn't. I expected a lot of anxiety when I hit send to the email, ejecting the book from my active, daily life.

I was done. The book is in someone else's hands, and it was time for me to let go.

The nerves didn't start until about ten minutes later, and I quietly smothered my anxiety with a beer. Way too many questions and doubts were rattling about in my brain. They still are. I keep having to tell that nasty little voice in my head to shut up.

Here's a little list of all of the things I'm worried about. I also call this my whining list. This is also the list of things I have to stop worrying about, because the book is done. These are the things I need to let go of. The book is done, and very soon, the ball will be out of my court. It's time for me to let this novel go and start working on editing the next title. (Which releases in October, for the curious.)

  • I missed an error!
  • This book sucks.
  • Why did I do this to myself?
  • I need to edit it again, it isn't perfect!
  • Will people like it?
  • Why did I become a writer?
  • Someone please tell me why I'm doing this to myself…
  • There has to be a mistake I missed. Not just one, several of them! Readers will hate my book because of these mistakes!
  • I really should edit it again.
  • Did I leave some nefarious plot hole?
  • My editor and beta readers were obviously yanking my leg when they said the book was entertaining. I need to edit it again and make it more fun.
  • Seriously, there are errors in that book. I know it. Give it back, Lisa! Give it back so I can edit all of the things!!

The list goes on and on. It's a very circular list.

Doubts happen. If you feel like you're falling prey to this circular list, don't feel too bad about it. I'm pretty confident it happens to everyone, even to the old hands. What matters is that, despite all of the doubts that are stampeding through you, that you acknowledge when the book is really done, and let it go.

This doesn't mean when you have finished the draft or have done a single once-over, but rather that you've gone through the entire process, editor included, proofing included, and so on.

I know, I know. A book is never really finished. It's never perfect. The author just makes the decision to let it go.

Despite the fears, doubts, and anxieties, it is a great feeling. It's bitter, but it's sweet.

Six months of work is complete, and while it could be better, it's good enough. It has to be good enough.

Now, I will just hope those who read the book enjoy it. I don't think that source of tension will ever fade, and honestly, I hope it doesn't. That's what makes me want to keep improving and make my next book even better.


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