The Art of Letting Go

- by Victoria Janssen

When is it time to stop working on a manuscript?

When I’m looking at a manuscript for the last time, I sometimes do a fair number of line edits, mostly just tightening up prose and making sentences clearer. I don’t add more scenes, or majorly change any scenes. Occasionally, wild ideas for changes to the story will fly into my head, none of which can be accomplished without major restructuring. Not only do I not have the time for that sort of restructuring at that point, but by then I’ve reached a point that I call done. So I do not try to implement any of those new ideas.

Those ideas can be for a future book; after a certain point, there’s no more to do but start a new book.

Done varies from person to person and from book to book. There’s a saying that no book is ever finished, only abandoned. What I generally reach is the state of abandonment. The novel is complete in my mind; it has a shape and structure and feel to it that further tampering won’t substantially alter. It feels done. It’s done with me, and I’m done with it.

Deadlines sometimes help with this feeling!

For me, doneness also happens in stages. There’s being done with the draft, done with the revisions, done with the whole thing. There’s the stage of having added all the scenes you need, and the stage of having slipped in as many thematic reinforcements as you can manage. There’s the stage of having a good ending. I can be done with each of these things, and then pull away, and later go back.

One sign of doneness is that I can’t work on the novel anymore; thinking about it leads to a feeling of calm emptiness, a feeling that I’ve done all there is to be done. This isn’t true, of course. But I think it’s a necessary stage. Otherwise, I would just pick and pick at small things, and never be able to draw back and look at the novel as a whole.

If I don’t feel done, and don’t stop working for a while, I will never get a complete idea of the novel. It won’t be done.

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