In the spring, I said I was finishing my novel, The Dead Celebrities Club, about a white collar fraudster who starts a betting game about old and frail celebrities in a US prison. My dreams told me I was on the home stretch. Well, it turns out there are home stretches and then some.
The first job with a novel is getting the voice of your character right and finding your story. After that, it’s anybody’s guess how many times you will revise your draft. Leonardo da Vinci said art is never finished, only abandoned and Paul Valery said the same thing about a poem. Writers have been talking about the need to abandon and not finish novels for a long time now.
But when is a novel finished? That is, what makes the writer decide it’s time to show it? When I began novel writing, I handed over my draft to an agent long before my book was done. I wanted my agent to find an editor who would help me finish it.
Today I hold onto my work much longer. Most editors are too busy to nurse along a work of fiction so sometimes the agent steps in and helps the writer finish their book before it is shown to publishers.
So when is a novel finished? Here’s a clue: When you show it to a few knowledgeable readers and they don’t say your book needs a lot more work. Key phrase––a lot more. Critical readers will always find something wrong; that’s their job. But if their comments resonate with you and the problems they spot are easily fixable, your novel may be close to being finished.
The other answer is your own reaction. Leave your novel for a month or so. Then go back and read it through. If you find it (mostly) surprises and pleases you, maybe it’s time to show it. Or you can always hug your manuscript close like Alistair MacLeod until somebody pries it away from you.