As I draft this blog post, I’m a chapter away from finishing my fourth manuscript. It’s also the third and final book in my Isla’s Inheritance trilogy—and it’s under contract with a scheduled release date partway through next year, so needless to say I’m pretty keen to get it whipped into shape so I can present it to my editor with a pretty pink bow wrapped around it.
A virtual bow. You can get those, right?
But here’s what I’m going to do (after I do an ecstatic dance around the house, frightening the dogs, and have a brag on Twitter):
That’s right. I’m going to step away from the manuscript. And, gentle reader, if you’re in this situation you should too. If you’re anything like me, you’ll want to dive headfirst into that precious document, to roll around in your words. You’ll be riding the rush of those final chapters, when you drafted like crazy and all the ideas finally came together. You’ll want to get in there and make it perfect.
(Or worse, you’ll want to send it to beta readers, agents or editors immediately, without even running a spellcheck. Needless to say, if you do that we can’t be friends anymore.)
Your mind is all foggy and confused. You can’t see the typos for the trees. You’re probably blind to plot holes, and won’t see them until you’ve driven in and broken an axle. Or your manuscript. Best case scenario, you’ll waste a lot of time and have to go back and do it again, properly, later.
I’m an editor. Trust me on this: when I break stuff, I BREAK IT GOOD*!
The best thing you can do—assuming you’re not on a tight deadline, in which case good luck and Godspeed—is to take the time and do something else. Give yourself a break; get a little emotional distance from that precious baby you’ve just finished birthing so you can come back and review it with a critical eye. (Note: don’t do this with real babies.)
I like to leave my manuscripts at least a month. I think Stephen King recommended that in his legendary book On Writing. Or maybe he didn’t, but it’s such good advice that I just assume it came from him. Either way, try and wait. Here are five things you can do—once you danced, scared the dogs and bragged—that are actually a productive use of your time while you do so.
Research the next steps. Maybe you’ve decided you want to try and find an agent. Now’s the time to start stalking reading agents’ blogs to figure out which ones represent the kind of book you’ve written. I use an Excel spreadsheet to keep my list in, but I hear good things about Query Tracker. Or maybe you figure you’ll try your luck directly with publishers, or competitions, both of which also require researching. Or you want to self-publish—in which case you instead need to start digging into the world of professional editors and cover designers, and look at publicity and the nitty gritty of formatting your manuscript. Regardless of the path you decide to take (and there are pros and cons to all of them), there are lots of things you can do to keep yourself busy.
Live life. Odds are you’ve been ignoring your partner, parents, children and friends, caught up in the drafting frenzy. At the end there you may have even forgotten to shower. Catch up with people, apologise, and get sanitary. Not necessarily in that order. These people love you and will support you throughout this crazy publishing ride. They will be your biggest fans. Be nice to them.
Experience something new. “Write what you know” has its limitations as far as advice goes—and where it ends, research takes over, holding hands with imagination. You could go on a holiday, take a balloon ride, learn to scuba dive. If you have ideas for your next manuscript but they require at least a basic understanding of underwater basket weaving or extreme calligraphy, you could take a class.
Read a book. Not everyone can afford extreme calligraphy classes. But I don’t have to tell you that books are wonderful things that contain all sorts of knowledge. You could read non-fiction, researching that next novel. Or read a book on writing such as the aforementioned On Writing. Or even just catch up on all those novels in your to-be-read pile, which are teetering so dangerously they may actually topple and crush you in your sleep. Because writers who don’t read shouldn’t—can’t—write.
Write another book. In between my second and fourth novels (both part of the same trilogy), I drafted a separate, unrelated book. Given I draft about as fast as a sloth on sedatives, this gave me more than six months between finishing the second book and editing it. This might seem like overkill—and yes, it was—but it certainly worked.
These are my five ideas. Have you got any others?
* See what I did there?
Cassandra Page is an urban fantasy writer whose debut novel, Isla’s Inheritance, is now on Goodreads. You could check it out. You know, if you wanted to.