What Exactly Does Finished Mean Anyway (7/9/2010)

At the time of writing, I have four novels all at various stages of completion.

The Order of the Scales is with my editor for editing. Eventually it will come back. Some form of rewrite will occur. Then there will be copy-editing, another (minor) rewrite and then the proof-reading (during which I probably won’t change the ending this time).

The Warlock’s Shadow is probably one spit-and-polish rewrite away from being ready to be sent to my editor.

The King’s Assassin exists as a complete first draft. It’s a bit rubbish at the moment, needs at least one major rewrite, but it’s recognisable as a complete story and largely the one that will appear in print one day.

The first draft of The Black Mausoleum is, er…. started.

Now all of that’s probably not very interesting unless you’re my editor, but I think I’ve declared that I’ve ‘finished’ at least two of them at some point in the past. Which might have made sense in the context in which it was said, but does make me wonder what an author actually means when he or she says something is finished.

Is it when the first draft is complete? All the creative hard work is done, after all, and the rewrites are just touching up, right? Well I used to think that, but no, sometimes rewrites involve taking large chunks, throwing them away and replacing them with new large chunks. So no, first draft is NOT finished. Kind of obvious when you stop to think about it.

Maybe a more generally accepted ‘finished’ is when something is submission-ready; when an author genuinely thinks they’ve finished and have something that’s ready to go to print. No author would submit if they didn’t think that, right? Right? I mean, we wouldn’t do it just because it was ‘well, mostly done anyway’ and we were aching for that next advance cheque, right? And editors don’t generally change much, do they? Do they? They don’t for example, take your 200,000 word manuscript and advise you to throw away 185,000 words of it and build a new novel around the remainder? They wouldn’t do that, would they?

Yes, they would. In fact they delight in it. If something was always ‘finished’ when it was submitted, editors would be a bit pointless. If we can’t say we’re finished until we’ve satisfied our editor, you might as well throw in the copy-edit as well. Changes here are supposed to be more about the structure of sentences and paragraphs than about scenes or entire acts, but that’s not to say it can’t happen. You can throw in the proof-reading too.

Even once a book is in print, typos still get found and corrected for subsequent editions. If you’re strict with your definitions, maybe a book is finished when it’s permanently out of print. Although maybe by then it’s almost finished in a different way.

In order to eradicate such confusion, I propose the following taxonomy of ‘finished’s

Done: I have written a first draft that seems fine right now, but will bear little resemblance to the final published story.

Sorted: I have written the second draft that apparently needs just a little spit and polish to be complete, but will still bear little resemblance to the final published story.

Poobah-poobah<unnecessary scene>: I truly and utterly believe I have completed the finest work of fiction ever beheld. Every word is a polished jewel of inspiration. I am merely giving this to my editor so I might revel in his gasps of admiration and delight. I am a Hephaestus among word-smiths, whose creative genious will evolve my readers to higher planes of thought.

Finnished: I have taken my editors many and oft sarcastic comments in my stride. I have also taken both the appropriate calming medicines and the necessary remedial action. Although I will never publicly admit this, it’s probably better than it was.

Really Finnished: I have finished the copy-edit and it is perfect. Now leave me alone.

Finished: I have done the damn proof-reading and removed the fucking typos. I never want to see this book again.

So, for future reference, and just so we all know what we’re talking about, The King’s Assassin is Done, the Warlock’s Shadow is Sorted, and Order of the Scales is Poobah-poobah<unnecessary scene>. There. Isn’t it all much clearer now?


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