My two-year-old doesn’t talk much. One of the few words he says (besides “this,” he’ll “this” you till the cows come home) is “done.” “Are you done?” I’ll ask after dinner. He’ll smile from his high chair and with a firm, single nod, say, “Done.”
I could have used some of that decisiveness with my novel. I’ve spent the past nine months telling myself and others that it was almost done. Nearly done. So close to complete. Any day now, really. Every time I went back to it there would be one small thing to fix. A detail I’d left out, a rough spot to smooth. What color were that character’s eyes again? I would tweak the little things, maybe add a page or two more, and think, “Is it done?”
It’s not done. Last week I finally accepted it. (I’m working on “embracing the fact,” let’s not go that far.) Two early readers (Jim Butcher calls them “beta readers,” is that a common term?) gave me very similar feedback that convinced me I had a lot of work left to do. Some of what they told me could be classified as tweaking or smoothing, but there was one big thing:
I’ve suspected that since September. It’s a short book. I considered adding some scenes in the middle to give it more action, or a subplot to make it longer, but when I started to do that it felt like padding. Everything that needed to be in the middle was already there. The problem is that the “middle” is closer to the end of the first act of a three act play. What I thought was a cliffhanger ending is (according to my beta readers) abrupt and dissatisfying. Let’s call it the end of Act 2.
I could have avoided a lot of wasted time and mental drama if I had known what “done” looked like in the first place. If I had sent the book to my beta readers back in October, or just been able to see the thing more clearly on my own, I wouldn’t have spent time fiddling with a manuscript that was half-finished. I wouldn’t have bought a domain name before I had anything to sell, for crying out loud.
The main reason I started this blog in January was that I thought I’d be shopping my manuscript to agents very soon and I needed some sort of presence on the web. A home base besides Twitter. I’m not trying to be a blogger — good thing, since I post about twice a month and have no apparent theme — I’m trying to be an Author. (Like Architect and Librarian, it must be capitalized.)
I am an author: I wrote something. I’ve written a lot of things, actually, I just haven’t finished any of them. Yet.