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IWSG: That Whooshing Sound

June 5, 2013

InsecureWritersSupportGroupIt’s the first Wednesday of the month and time for the insecure writers of the world-wide web to get together and commiserate via the wonderful Insecure Writer’s Support Group. If you’d like to join us, click the linky, where you’ll find the Ninja Captain Alex J. Cavanaugh and some of the nicest writers on the web.

Let’s talk about deadlines. I’m sure everyone has read this little gem:

I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they go by. Douglas Adams

Kriss Szkurlatowski @ stock.xchngI can appreciate a solid deadline too. I deal with them all the time at my day job because in the lab our customers like their results delivered on time, often ASAP–if not sooner. I sometimes joke and ask them if they might prefer their results before the samples actually arrive in the lab! Deadlines met mean money made though, so I rarely fail to turn my workload around on time.

I’m the same way with my personal writing deadlines. If NaNoWriMo challenges me to write fifty thousand words in thirty days, I churn out at least a hundred thousand. If I resolve to free write seven hundred and fifty words every morning, I write my words no matter what, even if I can’t get to them until eleven thirty at night. If a short story contest ends on March 30, I hit send on March 29 to make sure the story is received in plenty of time. When I resolved to finish the How to Revise Your Novel course sometime in June, I finished it on May 26. If I sign up to post on the first Wednesday of every month about my insecurities, I start writing my post weeks ahead of time and haven’t missed a post. (Not yet anyway!)

I used to think deadlines were no problem for me. Then I tried to write and, more importantly, revise this book. For the life of me, I can’t seem to set a deadline to finish it. (For those of you who are counting, this is the draft I finished in September of 2009.)

I tell myself that it’s because I’ve never written books before, so I don’t know how long it will take to produce one that’s actually good. Besides, how can I set a deadline to finish my book if I keep running into potholes in the writing of it? It’s not as if my book is a batch of cookies, where all I’d have to do is look inside the oven and pull them out when they’re brown around the edges.Dominic Morel @ Stock.xchng

How will I know when my book is done?

When the critiques all come back glowing? When I’m finally able to summarize my story in a snappy query letter? Will angels sing and stars float over my head announcing that I have finally created the masterpiece I am hoping for?

Or will I hear a faint but rapidly approaching whooshing sound as a deadline hurtles towards me?

I don’t know. But I think I need to figure it out if I ever want writing stories to turn into a paying gig.

So I’m turning to the insecure writers–and the secure ones as well. What kind of signs do you look for to decide if the book is well and truly finished? Or do you simply set a deadline, and stick to it no matter what?

Microscope image courtesy of Kriss Szkurlatowski, cookies image courtesy of Dominic Morel, both @ Stock.xchng
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57 Comments
  1. June 5, 2013 5:15 am

    I agree completely! I have to have a deadline to work to. I manage to blog every day even if I don’t get anything else done (housework can always wait!). I’ve tried setting myself deadlines for my novels (because a novel is never ‘finished’) but they just whoosh by. The only novel I’ve ‘finished’ and therefore published is Dragon Wraiths and that is because it was written to enter into a competition and had a drop-dead date to be complete. I had to put the manuscript in the post at the beginning of November and I finished the first draft in September. I’ve never worked so hard, and it probably could use more and more revising, but I felt it was complete enough for the competition. When it didn’t win I figured why not publish it instead. Now I just need to find a competition to enter all my other half-finished novels into, to make me finish the darn things! Actually, Mslexia have an annual novel competition, as well as the children’s one I entered Dragon Wraiths into. Maybe I should decide to send one of my novels in for that – that would get my arse into gear! 🙂

    • June 5, 2013 6:34 pm

      I think it would terrify me to have to finish a novel on such a ‘tight’ deadline! Although, that might be exactly what I need …
      Maybe I’ll pretend I have one and see what happens. I know– it’s not the same thing, but I have to start somewhere. 🙂
      Great job on entering the competition! Win or lose it’s still a hard thing to do.

  2. Will permalink
    June 5, 2013 7:30 am

    It’s your mind against itself, and may the best brain win. I have succeeded to a minor degree so far by throwing down a gauntlet for PUBLICATION, not completion. I say “it’s out by July 4th, or Labor Day” (this is self-pub, of course), so naturally I must finish the draft and get feedback from my beta-readers before then. Seemed to work for my first few books. Now I know I’m in a spot with a tough MC in a bizarre WiP, so I haven’t given myself any deadlines- and sure enough, I haven’t written a thing in three months. Soon.

    But in the end, it’s all a mirage, right? Some famous author said “you’re never done, you just stop”. My unpublished 200k trunk novel (the monsterpiece) has been revised seven times (at least, that’s full re-reads with polishing, much more than that if you count browsing a few chapters here and there). And on this last time through (January) I still cut over 750 words net of adds. As far as I can tell I’ll go back and do that forever- or at least until it publishes. Right now I’m holding off and waiting for a formal offer with that one- probably just flattering myself!

    • June 5, 2013 6:38 pm

      Interesting thoughts, Will.
      Perhaps I could look at a round of critiques for the full story as a precursor to sending out queries. And then set a deadline for getting the story to those readers.
      Yeah, I don’t think I’ll ever feel ‘done’ but right now I’m looking at too many plot holes to really call it a story. I have some ideas to fix them though. 🙂

  3. June 5, 2013 9:14 am

    You seem to be deadline oriented and there has to come a time when you have to say it’s good enough to go out into the world. You have to set that time and stick with it. The worse thing that could happen is you let someone read it and they make suggestions and you go back into revise mode, and give yourself another deadline.

    • June 6, 2013 7:17 pm

      Good point Sydney! My lack of a deadline might be the reason I feel like I’m floundering a bit. And here I thought I was being easy on myself! I might have to pencil in some kind of date, even if it’s only a way to mark my progress.
      Great suggestion. 🙂

  4. June 5, 2013 9:23 am

    I don’t think we’re ever completely satisfied with our books–we could revise and edit forever and a day. So, the point is FINISH. Get to the end. Then find someone who will read it and make suggestions. Not necessarily a friend who will be afraid of hurting your feelings, but another writer/reader who can spot holes and where you’re lacking. Ask them for a detailed critique. Make those changes to the degree you want to make them. Then … you’re “finished” until an editor asks you to … cut 1800 words, or add another chapter, or embellish that relationship between …

    You get the picture. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Just write it to The End.

    • June 6, 2013 2:51 am

      I think that’s an important point. If you’re going traditional route, there will be more editing as and when it’s accepted by an agent and then by a publisher. You have to get it out in the world once you can read it with a smile (or without cringing in my case) and move on to the next book. Books sell books. (So I’m told, I’ve only managed to finish one!)

    • June 6, 2013 7:24 pm

      Hi Jess,
      I have a few people (writers, bless them, :)) reading it now, so I might be closer than I thought!
      I like how you think though. Finishing things is important. One pass, with the ideas I have to address changes my writer/readers suggest, and then … off to Queryland, because you and Writer/Mummy are right–there will surely be more edits to come.
      Thanks for stopping by A Scenic Route!

  5. June 5, 2013 9:50 am

    My novel was done when I just couldn’t stand looking at it any more, and I wanted to write about something else. I did have an excellent resource in my writing partner. She helped me cut 13,000 words, set a realistic deadline, and held my hand all the way. Of course, I never felt the novel was perfect, free of typos or just plain dumb mistakes. I learned a valuable lesson. There is no perfection in this world. Deadlines are there to move us on, past perfection, into the next new thing.

    • June 6, 2013 7:29 pm

      ‘Deadlines are there to move us on, past perfection, into the next new thing.’
      Thank you for this. It’s exactly what I need to hear!
      I’m actually not sick of my story yet, but I have others that are begging for their own revision. The way through this might be to set some kind of end date, one that is realistic for me, but still ominous enough to keep me focused. And then let it go.
      Does writing ever stop being scary? Probably not, but that’s part of what makes it fun. 🙂

  6. June 5, 2013 10:25 am

    You probably already know what I am going to say. When others tell you it is good might be one sign. When you finish a revision pass and then start thinking…I can add this or what if I change that–you probably aren’t making it better, just different. When you have to start thinking, really hard, about what to change next. In other words, Tempest’s Serenade is ready 🙂

    • June 6, 2013 7:34 pm

      Aww, Papabear, thank you for the kind words! I would say about 50 % or a bit more maybe of the feedback I’m getting is positive, which blows my mind actually. But the other 50 % is readers who ask questions that the story doesn’t answer properly, and are confused by the events and characters. I really feel that I need to clear that all up before sending it out.
      I assure you that I’m not going to stick it in a drawer! For a first novel I think that’s quite something.

  7. June 5, 2013 10:47 am

    I think this problem must be fairly widespread as I also wrote on this topic in my A to Z post “Unfinished.” Since I wrote that piece I have completely altered one section; I was trying to ice the cake too soon. It was a watershed moment when I realized that I would not mind making all the less drastic revisions caused by the momentous one because I was so much happier with the flow of the story. I had set myself a manuscript editing deadline which I abandoned when I started the A to Z challenge and I am now very pleased I did that. If you must have a deadline then why not set a date for handing your draft to a couple of friendly beta readers rather than a “ready for publication” date.

    • June 6, 2013 7:40 pm

      I like your suggestion!
      I have some readers (who are writers, and good ones I should add 🙂 ) now because I was quite simply stuck on how to proceed. Their comments knocked loose all kinds of ideas and, like you say, I don’t mind tossing and rewriting stuff because what will take its place will be so much better! I worry that tossing and rewriting might become a cycle, however I can see that setting a soft deadline might be the solution to that. I will definitely invite a few more readers inside before sending it out for real!
      And I might have to reread that post of yours. 🙂

  8. June 5, 2013 10:59 am

    I don’t know how to tell when a book is well and truly done. I’ve totally messed this up a few times, but for my most recent book, I went through it until I didn’t want to change anything else. And you know, I doubt it’s done. I did the best job I could with it, and hopefully that’s enough. I did set deadlines. I did not make them. AT. ALL. so don’t worry about the making deadlines in revisions (there’s always just this one little thing… and then it cascades into a ton of little tweaks).

    So done? probably not. Satisfied? yes, I’m satisfied with my book (for the moment).

    • June 6, 2013 7:45 pm

      Thank you for your comment, Rena, because I thought I was the only one that totally lost track of a time frame in revision. I admit, this was my first one ever and I had a lot to learn, but still–it was getting ridiculous! I have some huge changes in mind for this next pass, but after that, I really mean to let it go.
      And I will learn to be satisfied.

  9. June 5, 2013 2:45 pm

    When is it done is a very good question, and one I find hard to answer. Several times I thought I was done with a story only to revisit it for some reason and start tweaking all over again. Sometimes it drives you crazy! Maybe as Rena suggests, feeling satisfied with the manuscript is the sign it is ready to submit. Good luck 🙂

    Suzanne
    IWSG co-host

    • June 6, 2013 7:52 pm

      Hi Suzanne,
      Welcome to A Scenic Route, and thanks for co-hosting IWSG this month!
      Yes, I keep getting ideas on how to make the story better! In fact, I just came up with a way to vastly improve a scene yesterday, and am glad I’m not done yet so I can incorporate it. I thought having lots of ideas was a good thing, but now I’m not so sure. This will drive me crazy!
      Makes me wonder what ideas other writers get after their stories are published. Would they tell us if they did?

  10. June 5, 2013 3:01 pm

    Perhaps you need a self-imposed absolutely no-touching-the-book break — followed by a very specific deadline that you will treat as though it were a cliff at the end of the road. Sometimes you’re too close to your work. You need to step away and forget a little bit about it – then hit it hard with the knowledge that there is no going back. That’s when I’d send it out to a few particular readers and say “This is IT. Is there anything BIG that would prevent me from moving to the next level with this?” Take care of anything big, if it comes in, and then get a move on to the next new fresh thing.

    That aside. You’ve inspired me to set my own deadline. I’m not sure what it is yet, but I’m going to set it – and I’m going to meet it. Thanks!

    • June 6, 2013 7:57 pm

      Hi D.V.
      Ooohh, a break. I love that!
      I could work on something else for a month or so, and then come back with a plan, a map and a machete and go to town on it. This could work!
      I work slowly, but if I set a date to finish it would still be something firmly in my mind.
      Thanks for stopping by A Scenic Route–and good luck with your project. 🙂

  11. June 5, 2013 5:48 pm

    Consistency and structure makes a difference.

    • June 6, 2013 7:59 pm

      Hi M.J.
      Welcome to A Scenic Route!
      Yes, I like that thought. I have been lax on the revision deadline because it’s all so new to me. But now, that I have the structure figured out, I think I can implement a consistent plan.
      Thanks for your input. 🙂

  12. June 5, 2013 6:20 pm

    I can tell you when I know I’m done – when I start changing things back to the way they were in the first draft. That signifies that I’m overdoing it and need to stop!

    • June 6, 2013 8:03 pm

      Hi Alex,
      My revised story is so different from my first draft that you wouldn’t believe they were the same story! Only a few characters and some settings survived the revision, so I’m not worried about going back there again! But I see what you’re saying. If I start to consider changing things for no other reason than to change them, I might be in trouble!

  13. June 5, 2013 6:49 pm

    I write until I feel the closure. It works on chapters, short stories, scenes, and books. The only problem is that I really CAN’T put a time limit on that.

    • June 6, 2013 8:08 pm

      Interesting thought, Liana. I might have to put that to a test and see if I can feel closure (and I think I do know what you mean) on a different story I’ve written. If I do, and still don’t feel satisfied with this one, I might still have some work ahead of me.
      In fact, there might be a few scenes that I’m satisfied with. Can I leave them alone? Or do I fiddle with them anyway?
      Thanks for giving me something to play around with. 🙂

  14. June 5, 2013 7:36 pm

    This is a really common problem among writers. A few good tips I’ve heard are that when you start changing things back to how they were before is a good sign. Some folks set a certain amount of critique and beta readers with revisions after each round. Others just say they can’t stand the thought of looking at the manuscript any more. Sounds like you have worked on your book enough to be close.

    • June 6, 2013 8:13 pm

      Hi Shell Flower,
      That’s the thing, I think I am close. 🙂 That might be what drives me to keep going! I do like the idea of critiques and beta readers. Positive feedback, or even negative feedback that I disagree with (but have reasons to disagree), might show me that my story is solid. It’s still a little shaky right now …

  15. June 5, 2013 7:40 pm

    I don’t know the answer. Although I think getting glowing crits from honest CPs is definitely on the list. When you find out, let me know.

    IWSG# 123, until Alex culls the list again. 🙂

    • June 6, 2013 8:16 pm

      Hi Melissa,
      It’s good to see you here! Ah, glowing critiques. 🙂 I’ve had a few of those and almost fell off my chair when I read them. But, there are problems, and the honest CPs are kind enough to point them out before I send something out that doesn’t work.
      It seems I’ve struck a nerve with my question though!

  16. June 5, 2013 10:27 pm

    It’s kinda like being in love . . . you can’t describe it. You just know when you know–it’s a feeling. But to test your feelings, I’d suggest querying it to only 10 agents first and see what kind of feedback you get. If you get some partial/full requests, then you’re on the right track! If they reject you after a partial request, then your beginning probably rocked but your middle needs some work. But you’re right, you can’t sit on it forever. Good luck!!!

    • June 6, 2013 8:19 pm

      Thanks Jamie!
      One of my problems is that my beginning is not so good, or at least I think the rest of the story is so much better than my beginning! So I’m going to work on that.
      I like your idea of querying a limited number of agents first, kind of like getting your feet wet before you jump in. Besides, if they hate me forever because my story is really bad, I won’t have burned too many bridges. 😉

  17. June 6, 2013 4:23 am

    I think its done when you get THAT sick of looking at it, when your changing scenes back to what they were three or four drafts ago, when all the critique feedback looks either the same, or something so radical you won’t even consider it; when you feel like you can’t look at it anymore because you’re sure you’ll just print it out and burn it (be sure you save it somewhere just in case the ritual doesn’t keep you from wanting it published).

    Really, when you’re just mentally done with it. Agents/Editors/Publishers will either reject or accept, and that’s all that matters, then the novel/story is done. You, as an author, just have to decide its time.

    …….dhole

    • June 6, 2013 8:25 pm

      Hi Donna,
      Thanks for stopping by A Scenic Route!
      Well, I’m not sick of looking at it yet, not by a long shot, so I must not be done. 🙂 I can picture what I want it to be like when it’s finished though!
      Printing it out and burning it would make me very sad, although I admit there have been times on this journey that I’ve considered it. That’s why my external hard drive has a back up on it!

  18. T.F.Walsh permalink
    June 6, 2013 4:44 am

    So hard to say a story is finished… at least it is for me. I guess when I’ve looked at it so many times, that I need space from it, I tend to think it might be ready to go out:)

    • June 6, 2013 8:28 pm

      I can’t seem to put this one away, so that might be a sign. Maybe I just need a little break, because I’m getting too wound up with just one story, but I’m pretty sure another go at it is in the works. 🙂

  19. June 6, 2013 8:09 pm

    A book is never truly finished. Many writers will continue to mentally edit their work long after it’s published because they can’t help it. I’m no help, I know.

    • June 6, 2013 8:33 pm

      Hi Lynda,
      Actually, it is really helpful to know that I’m not alone in feeling this way! It’s hard for me to contemplate saying good-bye to my characters and their world forever, and to make things worse, my story doesn’t really work right as it stands anyway. I guess it helps to love the story with all this editing I have to do!

  20. June 6, 2013 9:22 pm

    I haven’t finished my first book yet, so I don’t have any thoughts from that perspective. But I’ve worked on a lot of projects as a developer for a video game studio and I imagine the two mediums are similar in this regard.

    I side with the people who suggest that a creative project is never really finished. There are always bugs you didn’t catch, or changes that could be made that would improve the project. Deadlines can help, but just because the deadline arrives doesn’t mean the project is ready to ship. Ultimately you just get to the point where you can live with whatever bugs might turn up after release, and any changes you might implement just make things different, not necessarily better.

    So you put it in the box and ship it 🙂

    • June 7, 2013 6:21 pm

      It’s funny, I was thinking along similar lines because I was going to nickname my next pass Tempest’s Serenade Version 2.0 (just as a working title of course) because I feel as if I’ve sent it out to a few readers and now I’m working out the bugs they found. So I definitely think you’re onto something when you compare the two processes.
      The thing is those ‘known bugs’ always drive me absolutely crazy! I always ask myself “Why didn’t the developer just fix them? Grrr…”
      Now I think I know why. They put it in a box and shipped it because it’s the best they can make it. 🙂

  21. June 7, 2013 9:29 am

    A glowing critique is a final phase for me. Until then, I’m never be satisfied. But sometimes, you run out of time waiting for them. I’ve caved to others’ deadlines, even when gut says, “Don’t do it.” Those stories always come back to me with revision requests.

    • June 7, 2013 6:25 pm

      I get that to some extent too. When I put something up for critique there are always those awkward parts that I don’t know how to fix. My most excellent CP’s always catch them! I guess that means my instincts are good, and now I just need to learn how to fix the problems I see.

  22. June 9, 2013 3:42 pm

    I’ll let you know when I finish one 😉

    • June 9, 2013 9:34 pm

      Ah, so you’re in the same boat as I am! I’ll keep you posted on my progress. 🙂
      Let’s hope I get it figured out. Someday …

  23. June 11, 2013 3:52 pm

    I believe the actual revising process is torturous for me.

    • June 12, 2013 6:47 pm

      Hi Gina,
      Revision was nearly the end of me! At least this first one was. They say the subsequent ones get easier. I sure hope so. 🙂
      Good luck with yours, and hang in there!

  24. June 13, 2013 2:38 pm

    This is not going to help at all, but somehow I know when I’m done. For a specific thing to do, I check all subplots and make sure I’ve closed it off. Also, I ask a late reader (late in the process not late a reading) if there are any outstanding questions. It’s hard to find those by yourself. I you’ll know when yours is done.

    • June 14, 2013 10:21 pm

      Actually, it helps a lot to see that other writers know when they’re done, because that means I’ll also know when I’m not done! And my readers do have questions, which I knew they would.
      I don’t mind reworking, as long as I’m sure it’s warranted. 🙂

  25. July 20, 2013 11:03 pm

    Kirsten,

    I absolutely know how you feel with this. I have felt this way with my novel that I am editing and revising too. I just want to fill in those holes. Loved the pic of the dock with missing wood… exactly fits my manuscript in spots as well.

    • July 20, 2013 11:07 pm

      oops… I posted the wooden dock with the missing wood on the wrong post. haha… sorry, I had both links open in different windows. 🙂

    • July 20, 2013 11:15 pm

      Hi Devin!
      I knew which picture you were referring to, because a picture is worth–well you know. 😉 Building those bridges can be so painstaking, but in the end it’s worth it. (I hope!)
      Welcome to A Scenic Route. 🙂

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