I received an email with some great questions from a writer a few days ago. After our exchange, I realized his questions might be ones you're asking, too, and that my perspective on what to do with those questions might prove helpful to you.
With his permission, I'm sharing the exchange here.
As we talked before, I'm working on a novel (not as vigorously and regularly as I would like) but trying to take it seriously. I'm at 40,000 words and feel safe saying I am probably about halfway through or just over halfway. I'm confident that I can finish the story without too much trouble. I don't feel stuck, I just need to put in the time and keep sitting down to write.
But I'm starting to feel overwhelmed at how where to go after that. I can proofread a blog post 5-6 times in a single sitting—not the case with an 80K word novel. Once I feel like the novel is done, I'm sure I'll spend a considerable amount of time going back through it to edit it and add or remove content. But that's where it gets all dark for me. Then what?
Do I ask some trusted friends to read it and elicit their feedback?
Do I hire an editor?
Do I try to submit the manuscript to a publisher?
How do I even know if I've written is even any good?
Do I just keep it around as a personal accomplishment?
Do I just self-publish it so it's somewhere other than on my computer?
And so on... :)
Obviously I'm not there yet, but I think the unknowns about that phase are strangely affecting my present ability to stay focused and keep finishing the story. I think if I had some clarity on that phase it would generate more excitement and optimism to finish and stay the course.
I didn't start writing a novel to try and sell something. I just wanted to explore this story—and ultimately myself. So now that the end is in sight, I'm realizing I have no idea what to do!
Of course those are big questions and I don't expect you to answer them for me, but what first steps do you think I could take to finding some clarity in those areas?
I would love to hear your thoughts!
Great questions, right? Here's how I responded:
I loved hearing where you are in the process and the questions you're starting to ask and your noticing of the way the questions are starting to distract you from moving forward from where you currently are with the project.
All good things!
I'll say first, as a word of encouragement: 40,000 words! That's nothing to sneeze at. And your sense that you're about halfway through sounds right to me, in terms of word count. Congratulations on making it this far. Your progress evidences real commitment.
So, here are my thoughts.
I think it starts with discernment. You said you didn't write the book to sell it. You wrote it because you wanted to explore the story and also yourself. That is great to know about yourself!
That being said, your desire for the project is welcome to change over time, since the actual doing of something is discovery in itself and informs what we know of ourselves and what something wants to be.
So I think that once you're done writing it, yes, you go back after having written it whole and begin the work of real revision to the best of your own ability. Then you take stock. You enter into discernment mode. You perhaps sit in a space with yourself, the book, and God, and you open your heart to listen, notice, and speak among the trinity of the three of you.
If you discover the book was ultimately an exercise for you, then you can set the book down in peace.
If you discover the book might, surprisingly, want to go somewhere else beyond you, then you start attending to those other questions you asked in your list of questions.
As a note on that list of questions, I tend to be a proponent of working with a professional before involving friends. The professional will know whether your book has potential. They will tell you what the book needs. They will be honest with you, and they will speak from knowing the craft of story and the industry of books. Friends don't usually know enough about these things to be helpful at this point in the process, and they'll usually be more kind than insightful or honest. My perspective is that first readers come after you've done the hard work wth a professional, and they help you know how real readers (the ones you don't know now) might respond to the book when they read it.
If, after you do your discernment work, you decide to press forward into that phase of working with a professional, feel free to reach out if you'd like to explore working with me on that. Absolutely no pressure, of course!
Best to you in the continued writing,
I'm curious whether this perspective helps you hold your own questions about what to do with your manuscript once you finish writing it or how to know whether to pursue publication or not.
What thoughts do you have in response?