The first finish line

Dear Miss Snark,
About five minutes ago I finished my novel. Cheers. Smiles are on the house.

I don’t know what to do. Call my mom, the pope, the girl in high school who broke my heart – tell her to watch out, I’m going to be famous?

Or do I keep the secret. Get down to brass tacks and edit (please note, I didn’t say brass tax- I’ve been taken to school already for that one).

It took me two years to write 65,000 words. Without you it would be 120,000. I have a bonsai tree. I want to put query letters in the mail tomorrow. I’ve edited all along the way. I’ve removed the double verbs when it was possible, I took the word “that” out about a thousand times where it didn’t belong. I’ve been up and down this thing countless times. I know where it curves in and where it curves out.

I’ve read a number of times an author needs to sit on it for a month.

Should I? This thing has possessed me for two years. I’m ready to cut my Siamese twin. Do I let her hang to my skin another month? What do I do in between? I’m not ready to write number two – I need a break from those people.

First, you revel in this achievement. I'm not kidding. It takes a lot to finish a novel and every agent knows it. Why else do you think we we always say "you have to be finished before you query"? So, first you buy the champagne and toast yourself. I raise the gin pail to you as well. Killer Yapp doffs his tam.

But yes, you aren't "done". You do need to let it rest. Don't even think about it for a month. This is harder than it sounds. You've been working on this so long it's a habit to think of it, but for the next thirty days you'll have to stop yourself. Kick back, do some fun reading, go to Coney Island, watch Season two of The Wire all in one fell swoop.

Whatever you do, don't query.

In 30 days go back and just read it. Don't think "ok, I'm going to edit". Just read it. See what you think.


Anonymous said...


I agree. Let your novel steep for about a month to six weeks like Stephen King does. Better yet, read his book, ON WRITING, while your body recharges. Rent some good movies, turn off the computer, and get out of the house every day. Sunlight is good.

Sherri said...

I can personally attest to the wisdom of this advice. My book also took two years to complete, went through 253 partial edits along the way. I let mine sit completely untouched for three months. When I finally picked it back up, I had a clarity I didn't know I was lacking.

I made the mistake of querying too early, closing a lot of agency doors that might have been open, otherwise.

Anonymous said...

What the anon. #1 wrote, plus start working on another story to fill in that almost-empty spot.

Make it something wholly different from your book, genre, characters, background, whatever. You don't have to intend to finish it, the purpose is to keep your gears oiled and working.

I spent a month killing trees while trying to make a very frustrating short story work. It never saw publication, but when I went back to my novel I discovered I'd grown as a writer. It got my mind off the first work, but kept me in practice. When I came back for the edit the book really improved!

Oh. It sold, BTW.

Anonymous said...

Yes, congratulations. You have reason to be proud.

But may I add a few suggestions to your to-do list during your "time off?"

At the very least, in addition to reading Stephen King's book, read Noah Lukeman's, "The First Five Pages" and Nancy Kress's "Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint" and take notes and tab sections for future reference. I don't know these authors, so this isn't me plugging these books. I'm sure there are many others that Snarklings can suggest.

Also, read a few more books in your genre (after you read the books suggested above.) I'm betting you'll approach the rereading and rewriting of your manuscript with eyes wide open - unlike me, who wasted an incredible amount of time and energy rewriting with my eyes wide shut.

Don't waste your queries by jumping the gun. There is a lot more skill than luck involved in this business.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations from me as well.

Be patient. Sit on it for at least a month!!! I've just done that with my second project and believe me - after 4 to eight weeks (I waited 6 weeks without once opening the file - not even when I was longing too), you'll see things that you haven't seen before because you are too close at the moment. Put some distance between you and your writing.

Yo can still work on query letters. They are time-consuming :-) And yes, enjoy the feeling of having finished your novel. Be proud. Enjoy it.

mai said...

Congrats to the author, and a vote for Miss Snark's canonization, for insisting on the wait and the subsequent open-minded read.

Petrea Burchard said...

Congratulations, author!

Miss Snark is wise. Don't query yet. I guarantee you'll be glad you didn't.

Heidi the Hick said...

I so very much wholeheartedly agree with this!!!

I just took novel #4 off the shelf last night after letting it ferment for more than six weeks. I'm so glad I let it sit. In that time, I solved a few problems in the story that had been nagging me. The beauty of it is that I didn't even plan on fixing anything-- when I relaxed and quit obsessing over it, the ideas sort of just came to me.

I cracked that thing open last night and yes, I will have to chop off the first 37 pages, and yes, while I was working on other projects my writing improved. I know what to do with it now.

Keep in mind that even though it seems the world is crawling with writers when you read this blog, not everybody has the stamina, guts, and stubbornness to finish writing a novel! I feel your need to get moving on the next part but this month off is a blink in the timeline.

Good luck to you!

ORION said...

Start your next book.

Anonymous said...

As with everyone, i agree with Miss Snark... her other post about Mohshin Hamid is worth looking into too... He spent 7 years writing "Moth Smoke" and then 7 more years writing "The Reluctant Fundamentalist"-- he changed the second novel dramatically and several times... it originally ended before 9/11 and then he revised it to start later around 9/11 to include this event in his story... he made major changes over the years... and stepping back may be helpful to you in making sure you have the novel as you want it...

Anonymous said...

Congratulations from me as well. One thing I did not hear that I'm sure Miss Snark has said in the past, is: Find someone to read it. Someone who won't be afraid to tell you the truth (in a nice way). Not a friend, but someone whose writing you respect. Of course I'd probably do this AFTER the month cooling off period. Or find a writers group (I belong to a group online) and have them help you improve/edit it.

susan said...

Might I add, have you had someone you trust to be honest read it?

Maria said...

Query letters are very hard to write. You could use the month to write query letters. They will need approximately three times the editing of the actual manuscript, so get started on those while the manuscript is sitting in the background.

And as others said, working on a short story is a good way to clear the brain. Between the short story and query letters, you'll be plenty frustrated enough that you won't even notice you're not yet sending out query letters.


Best of luck and congrats!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations! Take a week and happy-dance around the house and yard. Then go out and get a haircut. Something sexy that announces to the world your new status of NOVELIST (unpublished, but so what? The details can come later).

Then take people's advice and get completely away from that book. I was stunned for a month the first time I wrote 'The End' on a manuscript. Being finished felt SO-O wonderful that I mistook (like others before me) the feeling for the fact. I assumed the book was great because I felt great about it.

I was WRONG.

I let it sit for a month but that wasn't long enough. Like others before me, I closed some publisher/agent doors by querying too soon. I needed the complete mental break of writing nothing but short stories for a year (I sold a few, too, so I had some recent good writing credits for the eventual query letter).

A friend, who had been rewriting and revising and re-querying the same novel for four years, recently left her manuscript under the bed for a few months while she went to Europe. When she came home and opened the file, she realized instantly what her friends had been politely hinting for the past few years: even after all that rewriting, she still had a sow's ear. A highly decorated ear, but still...

Leave that manuscript. Go away and do something else for months. Read books, read discussion lists, read the Sunday Times, write letters to the editor, write short stories, but do not open your manuscript file for MONTHS.

Blessings be upon your future as a NOVELIST.

Anonymous said...


Some utterly unasked for ass-vice, mostly a longer-winded version of Patricia Woods':

I have found that for me, the best way to stop thinking about a novel that needs rest is to begin working on the next one. Within a month, you will be DEEPLY in love with your new project and better able both to look at your old Lovah with a jaundiced and cruel eye and to withstand your former darling's peril-filled jouerney into querying and being shopped. I hope it works for you, too, plus it is ALWAYS nice to be able to truthfully say in queries that you are hard at work on novel number 2.

Best of luck to you as you pursue this maddening and delightful craft--

Anonymous said...

Way to go! You've at least done something so many talk about but never do -- you finished the damn thing!

Now...walk away from it for a month. Don't you dare check in to see how it's doing. Let it lay there. Go rest.

Books are very much like babies. They emerge with great pain, leave you exhausted and might look like hell at first glance. But after you've put some distance between the birth and recovery, you take a new look and realize you've got a damn pretty baby.

Some however are just...well, ugly babies forever.

If you're really a writer, you'll be able to tell what you have.

Anonymous said...

This applies even to short fiction.
It's so damned difficult to set something aside when you're so certain it's done. But really, do set it aside for a whole month. I advise you to not even read it for a month. Then read it. Then re-edit those bits and pieces that might still need it. Oh my gosh - good luck with it and congratulations. Finishing is not easy to do.