Listen. Think. Speak. Write.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Insecure Writer's Post: Is it done yet?

Once in a while, I have to run out while something is cooking or baking.  I will ask my husband to take it out when it's done.  "How will I know?" He'll ask. Then, I have to figure out how to describe something that is often subjective.
  • It's exactly golden brown. 
  • It springs back to the touch.
  • It's crispy just around the edges.
There's a lot of pressure in knowing when something is ready. You can hover around the stove, opening the door every few seconds, maybe even pulling the meal out when it's just a little underdone.  Or maybe you take a laissez faire approach and until someone asks, "What's that smell?"  

Assessing readiness isn't just for cooking.  How do we know when we're ready to take the next step in a relationship?  Or to end one?  To have a baby? To pull our money from a bad fund? To invest in a new house?  To look for a different job? 

A while back, I talked about a related theme.  I asked how you know when it's time to trunk a novel.  I've yet to find any objective criteria that answers that question or the one that preceded it.  "How do know when your novel is ready for to query?"

However, I've been riding the novel-writing and query roller coaster for a couple of years now, so for this month's Insecure Writer's Support Group, I've decided to begin a series of lessons learned related to revision and querying. Of course, I'll throw in a few life/communication lessons for fun.  I just have too much to say to fit it all into one blog post.

For this month, let me start me start smallish.  "How do you know when a novel is ready?" Just like cookies or cake or even relationships, you don't know for sure.  You make an educated guess. Unlike peeking in the oven, you won't find golden brown edged or spongy tops, an educated guess when it comes to relationships and writing means being open to feedback.  I've discussed reactions to feedback here.  For the purposes of my series on readiness and revision, though, my lesson is this:

Get the broadest range of feedback you can. 
You have to seek out (and listen to) new voices, outside of your current circle.  As a writer, if I have a set of pre-readers I use regularly, they have been trained to know how I respond to particular critiques. So, they may choose not to respond to those things anymore.  Or they've come to like aspects of my writing that they simply don't see flaws as flaws anymore.  More feedback is better. 
One of the things I think I lacked early in the process was macro-level feedback. My writing groups read material one chapter at time. They helped fix grammar and shore up individual scenes, but they weren't responded to novel as a whole concept. I did have pre-readers, but by definition, I think they were trained to give more general feedback.  

Some of the tough questions like "Are you beginning the novel in the right place?" might have come up, but I didn't hear them that directly which is another reason why more voices is better.  It's not just about hearing it more often; it's about hearing it in a way that clicks.

Branching out also takes effort.  You can join (or form) a local writing group or look for others on blogs and writing forums.  But just like broadening a social circle, you may deal with some discomfort; don't run away screaming.  The new and uncomfortable voice just might be the one you needed to hear.

Who gives you the best advice?  How do you find new voices to get feedback?


  1. What a great analogy! I'm the one who keeps opening the oven door to poke it and announcing that it's almost done. New follower here:)

    1. Thank you! I'm going to keep playing with his analogy for a bit. It's my biggest insecurity in writing. How do I know?

  2. Wonderful comparison. I couldn't agree more. We have to take an educated guess, or trust our instincts when deciding to submit to agents. Sometimes we can follow a recipe to the T and for reasons unknown to us, we get a flop. Same goes with writing. Timing is everything.

    1. Oh I like the failed recipe analogy, too. So true.

  3. I can appreciate where you're coming from. There's no hard and fast rule. So much subjectivity.

    I suppose, along those same lines, it's a good idea to move forward with an educated guess with an open mind for further revisions depending on the responses received for queries. Even an agent query rejection can help if it's not a form letter, if it mentions things that they felt were missing.

    1. Yes, definitely, Angela! That's coming up in a future post from me.

  4. This is a really great analogy! Even in baking and cooking everyone's tastes and preferences vary. My mom cooks her peas one way and I cook mine another. They're both good, they're both peas, but they're both still different. Given the same idea two people could churn out two different (although similar) novels that are done at very different times. Thanks for this post! I enjoyed reading it.

  5. Hi Tricia, I'm back! You've been tagged in the Lucky 7 Meme - come check it out at my blog at

  6. nice blog. Great post. I'm a new follower.