By Lynda R. Young
I recently went through some old manuscripts that had gathered dust. They’d been shoved in the proverbial drawer because of a perceived lack of perfection. I had believed they couldn’t be fixed because they broke the supposed rules, or the characters weren’t interesting enough, or I’d decided the beginnings were terrible or the endings were flat. I had plenty of excuses to hide them away and not enough courage to bring them into the light and try again.
I’ll admit I’m too much of a perfectionist when it comes to writing. But life is short and I’d had enough of silly excuses. There are plenty of popular books out there that are far from perfect yet they have a given a lot of readers thorough enjoyment. And it turned out my stories weren’t as bad as I had first thought. The problem was, they wouldn’t give anyone anything if I didn’t get them out there.
So when do you know your manuscript is ready for publication?
1. Write YOUR story
One of my manuscripts had eleven drafts before I had given up on it. Eleven! With each iteration, I’d made it worse. I’d sent it to countless people to critique and they all had something different to say about it. I kept trying to please everyone rather than listen to the story that wanted to be written. I kept focusing on the negative and believed the story wasn’t good enough and couldn’t be fixed. I ended up going back to an early draft and starting again. It is a thousand times better now and it’s ready.
2. Learn the rules but don’t be ruled by them
Some writers prefer to call them guidelines rather than fixed rules that mustn’t be broken. Whatever you call them, to flout them entirely is a mistake. They will make your writing better if you understand them first before deciding to break them. But do feel free to break them if your story calls for it. So what if your main character isn’t likeable? What does it matter if you use multiple flashbacks to drive your story? You want your story to revolve around a common trope? Find a way to make it work, then go for it!
3. Get valued feedback
Despite what I said in the first point, it is important to get feedback on what you’ve written. Get at least two critiques and then get a professional edit. A lot of what we have in our head doesn’t always translate onto the page. That’s why we need those extra eyes. So make sure the feedback is coming from people who understand your genre and preferably have experience with editing. Everyone has a bias too, so it’s important to also read between their lines.
4. Time is a great editor
Rather than declaring a piece finished and throwing your manuscript out there in a rush, give it some time to percolate. Stepping away from it for a while will give you fresh eyes so you’ll be able to see whether it is as awesome as you first thought or still needs some work. Time will help you trust your gut.
5. Perfect is an impossible goal
My husband coined the perfect phrase for what we should strive for when it comes to a finished manuscript: Happy Perfect—the perfect that’s not perfect, but you’re proud of it anyway and you’re willing and ready to share it with the world. Readers rarely notice the mistakes, the tropes, the broken rules. If they are enjoying your story then you’ve got a winning book.
For me a manuscript is never finished because I could constantly pick at it and tweak here and there. But I want to share my stories with the world which means I need to finish them to send them out there. It does take courage to stand firm in the blaze of other people’s opinions and our own doubts, but using these suggestions might help.
How do you know when your manuscript is finished?