You’ve finished your book and yet you can’t resist another round of editing. Maybe your book is ready for submission, but you’re not. USA Today and NY Times bestselling author Hazel Gaynor addresses the fears and expectations of letting go of your manuscript. (One randomly chosen commenter will receive a copy of A Memory of Violets.)
Wonderful to have you back, Hazel!
How do you know when your book is finished, and what happens next?
It is a truth universally acknowledged that letting go of a book is a difficult and worrying thing. To reach that moment when we stop writing and editing, tweaking and polishing, and allow actual people to read our work is a huge milestone. Terrifying, also.
Most of us cling desperately to our books like a hobbit with a magic ring. We find excuse after excuse to keep working on it, because that is where we are most comfortable. It is easy for us to stick with the habits we know, to open that familiar document, tinker with the opening chapter (again) and make minor changes here and there. It is far harder to say we have finished, release our book and start another. Another? Yep, another.
- You’ve been writing a novel for two, three, four, (insert number here) years.
- You talk about your novel so often that it feels like a member of the family. Once, you even set a place for it at the dinner table.
- Writing a novel is your defining thing. Friends introduce you to their friends as, ‘This is so-and-so. She’s writing a novel.’
- You feel irrationally over-protective of your novel, especially when you’ve had too much wine.
- You’ve already rehearsed the book launch speech, you’ve practised your official author signature for book signings and you know exactly what sort of image you want for your author photo.
But here’s the thing. How is our novel ever going to be published if we are constantly writing it and have never written it?
Exposing ourselves to friends, agents and editors who have an opinion is so very hard. Once out there, this almost mythical novel we have kept hidden away while we have been working on it in the quiet corners of our home, will now become just another book. Obviously, we hope people will love it, but merely thinking about the alternative response brings us out in a cold sweat. Reader reaction, honest opinion, constructive criticism, Amazon and Goodreads reviews (yikes) – none of it is easy, but then anything worthwhile rarely is.
Letting go and giving the book to readers is a difficult step to take, but take it we must, because without readers we don’t have a novel at all. We simply have words on pages; words we might think are terrific, but words all the same. It is as simple as this: we all need readers, opinion and discussion to bring our books to life.
And like Frodo with his precious ring, the process of writing our book will slowly drive us insane, and may ultimately destroy us if we keep it to ourselves for too long. Much as we fear it, we must climb that odious Mountain of Opinion and throw our precious manuscript into the fires of public consumption. We must, as Princess Elsa has reminded us (perhaps once too often), Let It Go. We must share our work with friends and our creative writing group. We must pass it to beta readers. We must send it to our agent. Show it to the cat first, if it helps. Whatever it takes, finish it and get it out there. Changing a single word in the middle of the seventh paragraph in Chapter Eight isn’t, in all probability, going to make that much difference. Be brave. Kiss your manuscript goodbye.
But what happens next?
For a while, you will feel wonderfully liberated as the desk-bound shackles of am writing become the joyous coffee shops of have written. You will enjoy the smug satisfaction of telling your writer friends (who are still Clinging On), that you are now Waiting to Hear. It is a time of great expectation, hope and delicious what ifs.
Hopefully, you’ll experience a wonderful sense of creative freedom and will start your next project. With an uncluttered desk and an uncluttered mind, who knows what you might begin. Of course, you will also refresh your inbox fifty times a minute and check that your phone is still working because Waiting to Hear is agonising. Your novel will become the elephant in the room that neither you, nor your friends who are reading it, will want to discuss.
And when the honest feedback does eventually arrive, we have to resist the urge to defend and justify ourselves at every offered opinion and constructive criticism. Our job at this stage is to listen, to take the feedback on board. Often, the thing we least want to hear is the thing we most need to hear. While we don’t have to love all the suggestions (or the person who kindly makes them), we do have to accept them with good grace and be brutally honest with ourselves. By removing the Prologue, or ditching the first three chapters, or adding a key scene into the penultimate chapter, the book might be so much better. But we will never know anybody’s opinion, or how much better our novel could be if we don’t let go.
Be brave. Be adventurous. Stop clinging on and going around in a circle of edits. Strike a path along the road less travelled. Surround yourself with a fellowship of writers who know what this feels like and can spur you on when the mean old goblins and trolls emerge to trip you up. Arm yourself with all the self-belief you can muster, hold on tight to your passion, and who knows what might lie ahead. The only thing stopping you from finding out, is you.
How do you celebrate or reward yourself when you complete a book or other writing project? Do you take a complete break for a while after finishing a project, or do you jump straight into a new one? How do you feel when you do finally let go?
Author Donna MacMeans joins us on Wednesday, February 11th.
A MEMORY OF VIOLETS (William Morrow Trade Paperback; February 3, 2015)
From the author of the USA Today bestseller The Girl Who Came Home comes an unforgettable historical novel that tells the story of two little sisters – orphaned flower sellers – and the young woman who will be transformed by their experiences.
‘For Little Sister … I will never stop looking for you.’
1876 – Among the filth and depravity of Covent Garden’s flower markets, orphaned Irish sisters Flora and Rosie Flynn sell posies of violets and watercress to survive. It is a pitiful existence, made bearable only by the presence of each other. When they become separated, the decision of a desperate woman sets their lives on very different paths.
1912 – Twenty-one-year-old Tilly Harper leaves the peace and beauty of her native Lake District for London, to become assistant housemother at Mr. Shaw’s Home for Watercress and Flower Girls. For years, the home has cared for London’s orphaned and crippled flower girls, taking them off the streets. For Tilly, the appointment is a fresh start; a chance to leave her troubled past behind.
Soon after she arrives, Tilly discovers a notebook belonging to Flora Flynn. Hidden between the pages she finds dried flowers and a heartbreaking tale of loss and separation as Flora’s entries reveal how she never stopped looking for her sister. Tilly sets out to discover what happened to Rosie. But the search will not be easy. Full of twists and surprises, it leads the caring and determined young woman into unexpected places, including the depths of her own heart.
Hazel Gaynor is the author of The Girl Who Came Home (William Morrow Paperbacks; 04/15/2014). She is also a freelance writer, writing regularly for the national press, magazines and websites in Ireland and the UK. Her writing success has been featured in The Sunday Times Magazine and Irish Times and she has also appeared on TV and radio.
Hazel is a guest blogger and features writer for national Irish writing website writing.ie for which she has interviewed, among others, Philippa Gregory, Sebastian Faulks and Cheryl Strayed. Hazel was the recipient of the 2012 Cecil Day Lewis award for Emerging Writers and appeared as a guest speaker at the Romantic Novelists’ Association Conference and the Historical Novel Society Conference in 2014.
- An Interview with Author Hazel Gaynor
- Literary Archaeology – The Craft of Historical Research with Hazel Gaynor
- Weekly Lecture Schedule April 14-18
- Weekly Lecture Schedule, Monday, February 9 – Friday, February 13, 2015