Thursday, February 10, 2011


I’m done. I’m done. Or in moments of giddiness, to paraphrase Pooh, dum-diddly-um-dum done. Only this time, I mean it.

You’d think you could only be “done” once, right? But I have found over the years that you get done with a book—the same book—many times before it’s really done—and it’s important to acknowledge (and, whenever possible, celebrate and take strength from) each one of those “dones”:

There’s huge-relief done when you finish the first draft. You’ve managed to choose a viable topic, get your editor and agent on board, wade through the research, cull the nugget of a story, and then build and build until there really is a story—a real story with a beginning, middle and end. The story has a beating heart. It still needs work, and lots of it, but it is its own self: cohesive, coherent, ready and able to withstand all the intervention to come.

Huge-relief done is major. It deserves a three-day weekend, dinner out, multiple emails with multiple exclamation points. It merits a movie with popcorn and no skimping on the butter—because think about what you’ve accomplished. You’ve taken a sentence, sometimes even just a phrase or word, and turned it into the equivalent of a living, breathing organism. You did it. You’re done.

Only, of course, you’re not done. Not done at all. (And this is a lesson most writers I know have had to learn from painful experience: no matter how shiny your first draft is, you are nowhere near being done with the book.)

Still, it’s important to mark the occasion with a suitable level of relief (huge) and excitement (immense), because until that first draft is done, you are never completely sure that your idea will work. So yay, it does. And that is great.

The next stage is nod-in-satisfaction done (which quickly morphs—but more on that in a minute) when you take the first draft through your critique group, sometimes more than once, filtering through their comments to pull out the useful ones—the ones the meld with your own vision for the book—and apply them to the manuscript.

Again, more reason to celebrate: you’ve taken your little draft through the first round of criticism and addressed your critics’ concerns to your satisfaction. A satisfied nod is certainly in order, after all that. (And maybe, another three-day weekend.)

But nod-in-satisfaction done quickly morphs into holding-your-breath done, because now it’s time to send it to your editor. And no matter how well you’ve pleased yourself and your critique group, from a practical/business/real-world standpoint, your editor is truly the one you must please. You hold your breath because you hope that s/he will like it, and also because you know that even if your editor does like it, you are not done. Not even close. And so you hold your breath, waiting to hear just how much is still left to do.

I always like this stage of a book because at least for this part I’ve got company for the hard slog. I have emailed my editor and said, ‘I’m stuck. Help me.’ And she does. Then there are the other times that she says, ‘Yes, this is a problem but I know you’ll figure it out.’ But she says it with such kindness and conviction that I can half-convince myself she is right.

So you work and work and work, and pretty soon you are sorta-almost-if-you-are-a-flexible-thinker done. Because once you and your editor have created a draft that is strong enough to send to the illustrator, to send to the copy editor, to present to the book designer who will lay the text down on the pages of the book, you really are sort of done except when you need to tinker and tweak to make it all come together.

Which leads to you being fingers-crossed done, which is when your editor sends the text plus illustrations to the fact checker, to make sure everything is accurate. And the fact checker always finds something, sometimes a lot of things (ack!), but fingers crossed they are not huge things and you can fix them relatively easily.

And then…after inevitably a few more stray this-and-that’s, you are dum-diddly-um-dum done. This deserves way more than a three-day weekend. It deserves, if you can swing it, a real vacation where you don’t even look at your computer except to locate the nearest ice cream parlor or to find out when the toy museum/art gallery/ski rental place/whatever-floats-your-boat opens.

In a matter of days or weeks, you’ll be working on a new book. But for a little while, at least, it’s good to enjoy being done.


Deborah Heiligman said...

Brava! For being done, and for this post. I agree it's important to celebrate each stage and also to acknowledge that each time it's just a stage. Until, of course that final book arrives. (Yet even then, there's that file labeled--for next edition/paperback...)

karen said...

Wonderful post, Barbara! I'm printing it for my husband, so he can see I'm not alone in celebrating those little/BIG moments. Today I'm at the holding-your-breath done stage, and dinner out is sounding good. But maybe when he reads your Dare I hope?

Barbara Kerley said...

Deb: Yes, true!

Karen: Yes -- flowers, ABSOLUTELY!

Donnalyn said...

I couldn't stop reading your post, laughing to myself and enjoying every word. I love your style and I want to read your books. Thank you

Melissa Stewart said...

Oh, Donnalyn,you MUST read her books. They are wonderful!

Great post, Barbara. Right now, I'm just starting the process anew. I'm looking forward to all those stages of done.

Susan Kuklin said...

Barbara. Your post made me think about going to the gym. As I arrive I look with envy at the people putting ON their coats. They're done while I'm just beginning. [The workout isn't so bad]

You're done! Congratulations! Alas, I'm just beginning. [But the workout isn't bad.]

Terrific post.

Barbara Kerley said...

The UTTER irony of it all is ---

you guessed it, I was not done at all.

Just this morning, a few hours after this was posted, I got a call from my editor on last-last-last minute changes that needed to be made. And one of the changes was tricky and took a while to tease out.


Susan E. Goodman said...

So, Barbara--how do you feel now?!?

Barbara Kerley said...

More like Eeyore than Pooh. Hah.

Barbara Kerley said...

No, seriously -- I'm so happy with what we ended up working out that I'm all happy again.

Things have circled back around in a nice way. Sorta feels DONE. :)

Deborah Heiligman said...

It's not done until the editor sings?