Thank You, I’ll Have Another


6a00e54ff9f2cf88340120a786bd73970bI was recently at a wedding of an old college friend. I’ve been away for a while traveling, so it was fun to come back and see him and so many of my other friends all at once. Who doesn’t love a wedding? Free food and drink, dancing, speeches, tears of joy, perhaps a little familial calamity. The only hitch came when I had to explain to people what I’ve been doing for the past few months.

The conversations went something like this:

“What you been up to, man?”

“Almost done with the book.”

“Is this a new one?”

“Nope, same one I’ve been at for a bit—the one about the guy who goes back to his hometown?”

“So you’re close?”

“Yup, just finished another draft but still need to do some more tweaking.”

“Well, I’d love to read it when you finally finish…”

The draft of which I speak is my fifth. And yes, I am almost done. The first draft was to figure out what the story was about, the second draft was a disaster that lost me an agent. The third and fourth drafts I barely remember and the fifth I finally I struck gold, I think. Which is to say, I finally created and followed a detailed outline and then a whole bunch of surprising twists and turns emerged on their own during the writing.

So I’m a proofread away from being done, right?

The truth is I’m not sure. When are we done? How do we know? Here’s what I think: You’re done when you’ve written your story to the best of your abilities. For me, that means multiple drafts, constant re-writes, and endless picking amidst of a ceaseless shower of self-doubt. This is my first novel (second manuscript), so maybe it’ll be easier next time but—as someone “almost” done—I find it nearly impossible to let go until my work is as bullet-proof as possible. And that means my plot must be devoid of loose ends, my character arcs resolved and all my details and threads linked up from chapter to chapter. And the sentence-to-sentence writing has to be solid.

This has taken me an inordinately long time. Like I said, it’s my first and if it doesn’t get published I want to make sure that it’s not for lack of effort or attention to detail.

Now, like all things writing, what works for me or you might not work for someone else. I know successful novelists who do no more than two drafts before turning in a manuscript. I’ve met writers who do five drafts just to figure out what it is they’re writing. Some people outline and research and formulate like mad before even thinking of beginning a draft. Others have only the faintest notion of what their book will be about and start writing just to see where it takes them.

And that, WEbookers, leaves us with the question of the week: How do you know when your manuscript is done?


JMHammock1 John Meils is currently finishing a first novel, tentatively titled The Warring House. He has written for Elle, Men’s Health, and, among others. To learn more about him, visit

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  1. I love hearing your thoughts on this...I am on a first draft that is about finding the story. I don't want to send it into the world until I like it a LOT. And have had people I trust read it.

  2. I think your manuscript is done when you feel it ticks all the boxes in a technical sense, spelling, gramma, character resolve and then the last test is the emotional check - does it arouse undetermined feelings within?
    Some mythology just needs to be felt, not explained. It's like that quality in a book that is not talked about often.

  3. I am the same way. It sucks when you keep plugging away at the same manuscript, lol. People don't get it. They always get that look in their eye like, "Really? You're STILL working on that?" But am an insane about the things you mentioned - character arcs, plot holes, loose ends. I gotta have it money. Plus, my current WIP is the start of a series, so if I don't get my mythos right in this one... well, needless to say, writing the next one may prove difficult. That's why I outline, outline, outline then draft, draft, draft. Maybe one day I'll get faster at it... when I don't have a 9-5! (fingers crossed!)

  4. Finnean Nilsen29 June 2010 at 08:58

    How do I know when I'm done? The same why I know I want to read more of a particular author. When I sit back, look at the last page, and say "That was a damn good book."


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