Wow. There is nothing like batting clean up on a subject that my fellow TA's have covered so thoroughly. What better way to finish this series on revision than to answer the question "How do you know when you are finished with this manuscript?"
Notice I didn't ask "How do I know if I am done with this story?" To me, finished and done are two different things. "Finished" is when you have taken the advice offered by my fellow TA's on revision. When you have written the best possible story....wait two weeks and see if you still feel the same way. If so, it's time to send your baby out into the publishing world.
"Done" is when you are so sick of writing this story (for the third or fifteenth or 115th time) that you want to pile all your characters into a car, and send them off a cliff, Thelma and Louise-style. ("And then they all died. The end.") This is not sign that you are finished. ...it means you need a break. Work on something else. When I am feeling "done" on a long project, I research another book (I am always researching the next book, while writing the current one), or mess around with a picture book I have on the back burner. (There's always a picture book on my back burners....several actually; it's a big stove!)
Writing a book is sort of like building a house. (It's not exactly like building a house; I never outline or make a blueprint.) I know the style of house I want, how many rooms and the general floor plan. When I first began writing, I never revised. I figured the accomplishment of completing 300 pages deserved to be shared immediately with the writing world.
Wrong, wrong, wrong! You know that feeling of wanting to stick your hand in the mailbox to grab back your envelope (or wishing there were a "never mind" command on your computer to retrieve an email before it is delivered?) That's a hint that maybe your house isn't finished. OK, you know your house isn't finished. As soon as you can't unsend your work, you will realize the literary equivalent of a house with no back door. Or a second floor, but no stairs to reach it. You were so happy to be done (with a first, or maybe even a second or third draft) you didn't see those "tiny" flaws. When you are tempted to fire off your done manuscript, wait a week. Read it again. Does it still feel finished?
Probably not. (How did you manage to not notice that you left a disconnected toilet in the kitchen? Or that you have three extra rooms that you don't remember why they are there?)
On the other hand, sometimes you really are finished, but you are still twiddling around with your story. You are nitpicking over unimportant details that really don't matter. Is it super super important that your character's best friend is named Megan or Morgan? (Sometimes it is important...but deep down you know if it is or not.) It's like changing the position of pictures on a wall. If it looks good over the fireplace and behind the couch...you are twiddling. You are scared. You are afraid to let go.
Let go. If you really are down to switching minor details around, then changing them back, you are finished. Send it off.
Then one of two things will happen. Rejection or acceptance.
We all deal with it differently with rejection. I find that Ben & Jerry's current flavor is my coping mechanism (I didn't say it was a good one.) Hopefully, you all have in place a rejection plan that doesn't involve calories, money or something illegal.
And then there is the acceptance letter/phone call/email. (Out of ten book sales, seven of them have been sent to me by email, three by phone and zero by snail mail. You will get a formal printed letter after the emal/phone call.) Jump up and down. Tell everyone you know. Celebrate. Then wait. Sooner or later your editor will send you a letter the size of War and Peace. It's a revision letter. There will be one.
Posted by Mary Ann Rodman