Writing a Book: What Happens After the Writing is Done?
The third step in the process of writing a book doesn’t begin until after you’ve finished writing it. For most people who aren’t writers, this is another “hidden” part of writing. Most non-writers imagine writing a book and sending it off to be published as if it were a smooth one-two step, but what happens after the writing is done is considerably more complicated.
In fact, some of the hardest parts of the writing process are the steps that take place the initial book is written. Having said that, some writers mix some of these steps into the writing process, because virtually nothing is cut and dried in a creative pursuit. Each of us finds our best path. Still, even if you do some of these steps during the writing, you’ll almost certainly need to do them again at the end.
Beginning with a Rest
One of the best things you can do for the book you’ve just finished is set it aside and walk away for a while. Do something else, maybe something in the real world outside the writing bubble. In other words, give your book a rest time. Depending on your schedule and pesky things like deadlines, this rest period might need to be really short. These days, I’m happy if I can give myself a weekend away from a project before jumping into revision, but you may find a week or a couple of weeks is even better.
The purpose of this rest time is distance. One of the greatest weaknesses writers face is an inability to be objective about their own work. We can skim over mistakes, reading what we meant to say instead of what we said. We can leave plot holes because we have essential information that we knew but which never got on the page. We can fall in love with our characters because they are ours, and not notice obvious weaknesses in characterization or dialogue. All these kinds of problems come because of our closeness to the project, and these are the kinds of things that resting can help you overcome.
Rest time isn’t a perfect solution. We’ll always be too close to our work. But giving the work a rest can help you to find more problems so you can correct them.
Reading the Book
Once I begin revising, I work a system to ensure that I look at all the potential problems my book can have. I begin with a read-through of the book, story, or article. I pause at the end of each chapter to write a summary of what happens in the chapter, how many scenes are reflected in the chapter, how the chapter affected the plot, and which characters were present. In the case of shorter fiction works, I will do these summaries at the end of scenes and transitions, and for articles, I will do it at the end of subsections.
Along with writing summaries, I will also write any questions that pop into my head as I read the chapter, such as: “Do I ever explain about the frog on page 34? Do we ever learn why Jenny is upset on page 50?” Questions written down make me more aware of these potential issues. Sometimes I find I answered the question in the text and it’s all good. Sometimes I realize I never made sense of this odd thing so I need to do something about it.
The process of writing summaries will help me see how the pacing of my story or article is going. It will show me whether every scene or chapter is useful and works with the rest. It will show me organization problems and places I can tighten the writing. After my read-through, I also check every question I’ve written down to see what I need to do and where I need to do it. This usually requires some level of rewriting. Sometimes it requires tweaks throughout the book to make the story work.
Another read-through, this time only jotting down questions, can help you find even more problems. You know how you can read your favorite books over and over and find something new every time? Reading your manuscript can offer the same reward, though the “new” you find every time will be new ways to improve it.
The Nitty Gritty
After a couple of read-throughs and big fixes, I’m ready for the nitty gritty: fixing all the little things that keep my book from being as good as I can make it. For me, the biggest part of this is searching out pet phrases. Pet phrases are my biggest issue, because most of the time, I catch the bulk of my typos simply in my two read-throughs. I won’t get them all. I will always have a problem with getting caught up in the reading and missing a typo. But I usually catch enough that the editor who will eventually read the book will catch the rest (and it means acquiring editors won’t reject me based on lazy writing).
If I’m dealing with a short project (a children’s short story, a picture book, or a beginning reader), I want the piece to be totally without typos if possible. Therefore, I will go through the manuscript from end to beginning. I read it beginning with the last paragraph and reading back to the first paragraph. This often helps me avoid reading what I know it should say instead of what it does say. Obviously, I cannot do this with a long project. If I have tons of time, I can have the read-aloud function of my word processor read the book to me (since it will read my typos out loud and make them jump out at me) but with a tight deadline, I may not have the leisure to be quite so meticulous.
Typos aren’t the biggest picky problem my writing faces. Pet phrases and pet words are the biggest picky problem my writing faces. So I have a sheet of words to do global searches for. This lets me know if I had my characters “look” a ridiculous number of times in a novel, or if my characters “shrug” too much or give too many eye rolls or nods. All of these can turn into desperately overused tics in my writing. So I will go through the book using searches and begin thinning down these favorites. Obviously, the steps to improve my book take time, but it can be the difference between selling a book and seeing it fail, so it is definitely worth the effort and the patience.
After the End of Writing a Book
The final part of the writing process will involve decisions made about what to do with the book after you’ve done all you can with it. It will involve whether you need an agent, or whether you want to go with a publisher at all. You may be looking at self-publishing and considering whether that can work for this project. All these decisions are part of the underside of the iceberg as well, and making the best choice for the project can require a cool head and patience.
In some ways, this last step is a return to the first step. Before you began the book, story, or article, you did research. You did more research as you planned the book and wrote it. And now you do the final research to make the decisions that get it into the hands of the reader. I’ll admit, I like the way research slips in over and over, as research and I are old friends.
This final part and the decision making that comes with it can be as rewarding, frustrating, interesting, and sometimes discouraging as all the other steps you’ve gone through. But if you stick to it and give it your best, it’s the part that will help you get the very most out of everything you did before now.
So that’s well worth it, isn’t it?
Related Links for in the Writing a Book blog series:
With over 100 books in publication, Jan Fields writes both chapter books for children and mystery novels for adults. She’s also known for a variety of experiences teaching writing, from one session SCBWI events to lengthier Highlights Foundation workshops to these blog posts for the Institute of Children’s Literature. As a former ICL instructor, Jan enjoys equipping writers for success in whatever way she can.
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