Is a manuscript ever completely complete?

I’ve experienced several completion milestones so far on this journey. Four months after I started writing, I “completed” my first draft. That was a milestone.

I painstakingly worked my way through a full and thorough edit. Then it was “done.”

Next, I gave it another once over. Then I edited with the sole purpose of “trimming the fat” and getting my word count down. After that, it was “complete.”

Soon I began querying to agents, which was a challenging and hugely disappointing process. Getting absolutely no feedback from anyone was the hardest part. In retrospect, I wish I’d waited. I wish I’d taken a break then dove back into the editing, which is exactly what I ended up doing after receiving my fair share of form rejections. Or worse the ubiquitous – if you don’t hear from us in 6 weeks or 6 months we passed rejection.

In fact, in the meantime, I wrote and “completed” a whole other manuscript. Although I know now, “completed is a false term or maybe a euphemism for hitting the pause button.

Not ready to give up on Matthew and Karissa, (my lead characters from Discovering Our Story) I came back to it after a nice long break. Vowing to submit the manuscript again, with a different strategy, I dusted it off and got back to it.

I did another full edit to refresh myself with the writing. Then I did a full edit of the dialogue. Still not complete, I sought a critique partner, which I found to be hugely helpful and very, very fun. (Shout out to DG!)

Her valuable insights led to a round of editing. After reading a particularly insightful blog post, I did yet another full edit; strictly focused on point of view.  

The thing is, I could edit this book for the rest of my days. Every time I read it, I find a small error, a comma missing, a word choice that could be better – something to change. There are 85,000 words, and I could easily look for ways to change one or two each and every time. One of my favorite editing techniques, if you can call it that, is to pick a number between 1 and 340.  (Yes, there are 340 double-spaced pages! When was the last time you’ve written, read, and reread that many pages – it’s exhausting.) I scroll to that page and start reading and edit from that point. I’ll spend 20-30 minutes on it, whatever I have to spare at the moment. I can’t even begin to guess how many times I’ve done that.  

But here’s the thing. At some point, I need to reach a point of substantial completion – a term from the construction industry. It means that, while there may be a few things remaining on the punch list or a couple lingering imperfections, it is pretty darn close. Once you’ve reached that point, it’s time to hand it over to the new owners.

I think I’m there (again). The manuscript is better, stronger, and as complete as it can be at this point. I think it’s time to be brave and hand it off lovingly, albeit hesitantly, to would-be publishers; and eventually, would-be readers.

That’s the scary thing about completing something. It’s not the coming to an end – it’s hoping for a new beginning.

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