I attended my first writer's workshop recently. I met some phenomenal people and received (and hopefully gave) some useful advice and feedback about writing. One thing that two different authors mentioned is that a writer needs to know when it's time to finish his or her current novel and send it out into the world. In writing terms, this means to start querying your manuscript and to start in on a new project. This is a vital question for me, because by nature, I'm intellectually monogamous. I have a heck of a time working on more than one major writing project at a time. Revising and refining Umbral Heretic this summer has prevented me from writing any short stories, seriously starting another novel, or even writing entries for this blog regularly.
So, is Umbral Heretic done? Is anything ever really done? The short answer, of course, is no.
Writers are never completely satisfied with what they have written and with good reason. There is always something you can change about a plot thread or character that would ostensibly strengthen the work. The story you put down on a page will never be as deep, beautiful and profound as the one in your head ( a couple different authors said this at the workshop last weekend). And of course, there are those annoying sentences and paragraphs that never seem polished enough, no matter what. I am a perfectionist, so going back and reading something I wrote as recently as an hour ago, can make my toes curl in agony.
Then there is the sometimes conflicting feedback we get from our critiquing partners. What if two of your trusted sources disagree greatly about a turn of phrase, element of your world building, scene, character or even an entire plot thread? Who do you trust if you're undecided yourself? That nasty little voice of doubt will never go away completely, and all writers have a tendency to think that something they wrote a while ago and then came back to is rubbish.
So how do you know if it's really ready in spite of all your misgivings? The answer, of course, is you don't ever know for sure, at least not until/unless a prestigious publisher offers you a lucrative contract and the book actually does well in sales. Even then, I suspect, writers wonder if they could have done better. The best thing you can do is get some people who know something about writing and storytelling and the market you are aiming for to read the thing the way they would a novel and give you honest feedback.
Their sharp eyes will pick out those clumsy passages, confusing timelines and plot threads that don't tie themselves off satisfactorily. They will also tell you if a character is bugging them in a way he or she is not supposed to be bugging them, and they can tell you whether the timing and pacing and causality of events makes sense to them. And hopefully, they can give you some ideas about how to fix the things that are fixable and whether the things they dislike that you can't fix would be possible deal breakers to most readers. Since they are reading the novel in its entirety, and not just chapter by chapter, they may be able to spot things that you the author and the initial set of critiquing buddies were too close to see.
My novel is complete, and I think, ready to send to some beta readers. Once that process is over (barring very discouraging news), it will be time to start querying it. As much as I've been working towards this goal for the past year, the notion scares the hell out of me--and not just because of my hatred of query writing or because of the poo-flinging doubt monkeys that live inside my head.
I've spent the last year creating, refining, thinking about, obsessing over, dreaming about, and dare I say it, loving my characters and their world. They feel like friends to me. Soon, I will have to say goodbye to them and move on to a new project. This is necessary for me as a writer, since I've probably learned and grown just about as much as I can from this novel. It is also necessary, because in the end, I don't want to put all my eggs in UH's basket. Even if it is phenomenal for a first novel, the odds of any one piece of work being published are far from good. Failure will be less demoralizing if I've managed to publish some short stories and am halfway through a new novel.
But when I send Jarrod and Tesk out into the world to stand or fall on their own merits (or really on my merits as the writer I was when I created them and their story), I will miss them terribly. Even if I write a sequel someday, my relationship with them will be very different.