The past two weeks, I’ve talked about the stages we go through in our writing projects, including the challenges at each stage and ways to keep from derailing. After we have prepared the work-in-progress, let it germinate, worked on it, then deepened and shaped it, we are ready to complete the work.
“There is a completion stage,” Louise de Salvo says in Writing as a Way of Healing, “during which we again revise, revisit, rethink, and refashion. .. Often the drive to finish a work takes precedence over other needs and obligations—like being social or taking showers or eating well.” She said her sons used to call this her “demented stage” because she was so completely involved in her work.
Derail or Finish? That Is the Question
During the completion stage, you can derail your process several ways:
- If you work needlessly, refusing to let go of your writing project and send it out into the world, your book can fail to be published out of fear. (The “world” can mean your critique partner, your agent, or an editor.) You know in your gut that you’ve made the book as good as you’re able at this point in your learning curve, and that continuing to work on the book is probably not helping it much. In fact, if you keep tinkering needlessly, you can do more harm than good.
- If you lose interest in your work at this point, you may sadly end up putting the manuscript on a shelf in your closet “to work on later,” only later never comes. Instead of this solution, you must find ways to rekindle your original enthusiasm for your book. If you kept a work journal for this project, go back and read your original notes and hopes for this book.
- If you become careless during this stage, you might not do the necessary polishing or changing that deep revisions call for. You might settle for a good manuscript or story, but not rise to the excellence you’re capable of at this point in your career. If you find yourself reading through your manuscript and being jolted by certain paragraphs or sentences—yet go on by, hoping no one else will notice the jerky rhythm or unclear sentence—then you’re becoming careless. This can derail your project.
It makes no sense to spend weeks, months, or years writing and then, when finishing, to produce a slovenly, careless effort. During the completion stage, you must fine tune what is there. You must pay attention to detail at this stage. It can be a “slow, meticulous, often plodding process,” says Ms. de Salvo. Yet it is necessary. “Finishing strong is something great athletes learn… Finishing strong is something writers also must learn.”