The Q & Q Files. How do I know when my book is ‘finished’?

Yes! (Dainty air punch.)

This is the first of many transcripts I’ll be sharing with you, dear reader, over the coming months. Q & Q Friday (questions and quacks), straight from Duckie TV to you!I got words. I got videos. I got sound files. I got the lot! It’s a veritable picnic of advice, opinions and… quacks. In whatever form you prefer.

So, without further ado, let’s break out the ginger beer and take a seat on the blanket. Did anyone bring biscuits?



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Hi! Welcome to the first Girl and Duck Q and Q Friday, where I answer your questions about the writing life, writing for children, the publishing industry and all kinds of other cool stuff.

So, today we’re going to start with a letter from Lucy in Brunswick. I’ve chosen this letter because I think poor Lucy sounds a little bit desperate!

She writes: Dear Jen, please, please tell me how many drafts I should do of my novel before I show it to anyone. And who to show it to? I’m thinking at least two people who read but don’t write, maybe one that writes for kids and one industry professional who I might be prepared to pay.

Okay Lucy, there are a few questions in here, so I’ll start with the first part: Please, please tell me how many drafts I should do of my novel before I show it to anyone.

In itself that’s interesting because I’ve noticed that a lot of writers, especially aspiring authors, get this idea that there are a number of drafts they should be doing and that they should be keeping count. That also gives me the impression that people are thinking a draft is beginning to end, beginning to end and so on, and then throwing all these drafts away and starting all over again.

But Lucy, the fact is there’s actually only one draft. That’s my experience anyway.

One draft that you just keep reworking and you just go round and round and round in circles with that draft. You get it to a certain point and you might go back to the beginning and start again, and then you take it a bit further the next time around. Or you might write to the end and then go back to the middle and start working there.

It’s not as linear as one draft, two drafts, three drafts, four drafts.

I think maybe that idea comes more from some of the more a left brain authors that go around the circuit saying, ‘Oh, yes,  I did sixteen drafts of  Children of the Lesser…’ Whatever. Blah blah. And we all get really impressed and it’s kind of intimidating.

But really there’s only one draft and trust me, no matter how many times you’ve worked on it, by the time it gets to the publisher, it’s the first draft. As far as the publisher is concerned it’s always the first draft.

So Lucy, don’t worry about things like that. Be more on the lookout for how you’re feeling because there comes a point in a novel where you just can’t see the wood for the trees. You’re just so embroiled in it all that you know you just can’t take it any further. You’re through with it.

For me, it’s like I get to a point where I just want to vomit on the manuscript, I hate it so much.

This is a good time to step away. Step away from the manuscript! Give it some space and give it to someone else to read.

I’ll read it for you.

But, here’s a really big, big tip, probably maybe the most important tip you’ll ever get in the creative writing world and when you put this tip into play you’ll write to me and say, Thank you, Jen, thank you for forcing you to do this!

Okay, everybody hates this tip but it’s so important: When you get to the point where you’re fed up with your manuscript and you feel you can’t take it any further, put it aside for six weeks. At least six weeks.

Even if it’s a picture book. In fact, especially if it’s a picture book because those doozies, they get into your neural network and you can’t fix them because the words are just so familiar. It’s like trying to fix Jingle Bells, you know? It becomes this tune that goes around and around in your head. So you really need to step away from picture books. I would give a picture book three months.

I’m not kidding. At least three months. In fact, I’ve written picture books and put them aside for a year and then come back to them.

And when you come back and your brain is fresh and you’re looking at your stuff like a reader, you see all this stuff you didn’t notice before and you can just fix it with a flick of a pencil! It’s really rewarding. But also, what a lovely surprise— you’ll see your work afresh and there will be parts that you really enjoy, parts that you think, Oh what’s going to happen next? Or you laugh out loud at the jokes. Anything like that encourages you. I mean, we need all the encouragement we can get!

So Lucy, please take your manuscript as far as you can, then set it aside, go and start a new project, work on something different, forget about that book, no peeking okay? Then come back in six weeks’ time, go through it, read it aloud, do another edit, do another polish—this might take a while, it might take a couple of weeks, you know, or a couple of months, but it will be fresh, at least these will be good changes.

This way you’re not just working for the sake of working or tinkering.

Then if you want to find an industry professional to read it, I would say that’s a great idea, Lucy. I think paying someone to read your work is a great idea.

I also suggest only one trusted reader from your family and friends. I use my partner because he loves kids’ books and he’s a terrific reader. It’s too much to ask other people to read your book, it puts too much pressure on them, it compromises your friendship plus, you know, asking someone to comment on a novel is a really big ask. It takes a lot of mental energy and people are busy, they don’t have time to give you really constructive feedback a lot of the time. So some of the stuff that comes back can be half-baked, you know, sincere but really half-baked. Then you end up trying to please too many people and that just sends you into a spin.

So Lucy, get one trusted reader and then off to a professional if that’s what you’d like to do. It’s professional development, it’s a tax deduction, so hey, why not?

And then send it to a publisher.

So Lucy I hope that helps!

If you guys have any tips that might help Lucy, what do you do, how do you know when you’re done with something? Do you give yourself and your work that lovely resting time? Or do you get caught in that: Oh my god, I really want to share it, NOW!

I do understand that flourish at the end of a project, that desperation to share.

But those six weeks (and if you can make it, a bit longer), you’ll just be so thankful to yourself for doing that.

Okay! So that’s Q and Q Friday, done and dusted.

I’ll see you back here next Friday for more questions and quacks, and don’t forget that email address at the end of the video.

Or, if you’re reading this transcript on the blog, leave a comment. I’d love to know what your experience has been.

See you, good bye!

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5 Replies to “The Q & Q Files. How do I know when my book is ‘finished’?”

    1. Harsh, hey? But i tell you, you will love yourself for it, Zoe. Plus if you hop straight in and start a new project you’ll forget about the other one for a while and the six weeks ‘resting’ time will fly by. xo

  1. Great advice Jen! I know what you mean about getting friends to read it, which is why I’ve gathered together a group of writerly types and we help eachother see the flowers on the bushes…. or something like that. You are also soooo right about the space between reads. It’s hard, cos you just want to finish the damn book! But in the end it is easier when you’ve had a break. Thanks for another great quack!
    PS Saw you are Judith Rossell’s launch today, was going to say hi, but you looked engrossed in conversation. Next time!

    1. Oh! I would have loved to have met you! Yes, i was yapping to lots of people. it was such a lovely launch. I hope you got a biscuit, they looked so pretty! Thank you so much for commenting, too!

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