I don’t know about you, but when I finish writing a novel there’s a tremendous rush of excitement and a sense of accomplishment. I did it! I also have a tendency to like what I’ve written. It looks good to me.
However, reading through your novel shortly after you’ve finished it with the idea of making submissions to agents or publishers is something you should NOT do.
Nope. Find a real or virtual desk drawer and put the thing away and do something else. Here’s what author Jeff Cohen has to say in a post on the ever-interesting writing blog, Hey, There’s a Dead Guy In the Living Room:
So how do you know if your book is ready for submission? First, take a week. Better, take two weeks. Do something else. Go scuba diving. Read someone else's book. Take tango lessons. I don't know; go to work at your actual job. Take your kid to the beach (if you're not me--I'm not crazy for the beach). The only thing you should definitely not do during this time is read your manuscript again. You won't see it; you'll only see the triumph of time and effort and not the result.
After the two weeks are up, open the file again. Read it with OBJECTIVE eyes. You'll see flaws. You'll notice things you wish you hadn't done. You'll despair for the puny, crippled thing you have created.
But having seen all that, the good news is that you can make it better. Plot possibilities that hadn't suggested themselves because you'd had a plan will appear. Character traits will surface that you can exploit more thoroughly. Mistakes can be corrected and style stengths added.
In other words, once you can see your work clearly, you'll have ideas on how to revise it.
I think it was Stephen King who advised putting the book away for six weeks. I think six weeks is better than the two weeks Jeff suggests, but, either way, put it away.
You need distance that only time can create, emotional distance that will clear away the gauzy film of accomplishment that conceals the oopses in your narrative. In addition to putting it away, I strongly recommend that you read it aloud when you first return to it, the whole thing. The way you process words to speak them is different than silent reading, the kind you’ve done all along, and that will help create another level of distance that enables you to see and hear flaws.
You can also help create distance by reformatting your pages to look different. When I make the page size and font look more like a book, I’ve found that my expectations of the narrative go up a notch or two. I’m tougher on the narrative in a new format. There’s a post on ways to do that here.
So—put it away, reformat it, and then read it aloud. I think you’ll be pleased at how well you’ll see both the good and the not-so-swell aspects of your manuscript.
And best of luck.
For what it's worth,
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“A wealth of advice backed up by numerous examples and explanations. Ray doesn't just give you the "rules" of writing, but also gives you an understanding of why you shouldn't break the rules . . . and examples of times when it's a good idea to break them. Ray's book deals with storytelling, description, dialogue, techniques, words to avoid, and workouts that help writers to understand how to critique their work and others. He also delves into how to hook your readers and make them care about your story and its character through building tension, raising story questions, perfecting your narrative voice, writing with clarity, setting the scene, and developing your characters. This book is well worth the price of admission.” Joseph
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