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December 04, 2013


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Alfred L. Brophy

That's a great title.


You never finish. You just run out of time and hope that its well enough along that nobody notices how much better you could have done with just a little more time.

Howard Wasserman

What Bob said.

Greg Sergienko

Gabriel Garcia Marquez said that there was always more you could do but that you have to stop. It's in the preface to his colleciton of short stories, Strange Pilgrims. I was looking for my copy, which I kept on my office shelf as inspiration, so that I could quote it to you properly, but it must've been mislaid in my latest movie.

Juan Perea

Hi Brando. Congratulations on being within reach of "being done." Perhaps you are done, even if there are things you could improve. Although one could tinker and edit forever, I feel "done" when I feel comfortable with both the substance of what I've written and with the way I've conveyed that substance. That doesn't mean that I think that my work is ever perfect or not subject to improvement, but just that my written words reflect well my meaning, my intention, and my voice. Then I pause and I rest and I move on. I hope that helps. Again, congratulations!

Eric Muller

I would say you're done right around the time when you're telling people you can meet your deadline with no extensions.


One thing for sure:

You're not done until the book is edited by a grammar nazi. For that reason, David D.Friedman's books-- "The Machinery of Freedom," for example--are never done, however interesting they might be.

Mary Dudziak

Hi, Brando. In case you're still reading these comments...
For me there is always more to do than you can possibly fit into a book, or into the available time. So when I get close to a deadline, I triage my work -- along the lines of a first-aid triage. In a disaster triage, there are three categories:

1. Injuries that don't need to be treated now -- the patient will survive if you treat it later.
2. Injuries that need to be treated now, or the patient won't survive.
3. Situations in which even if you treat the patient, they have no chance of survival.

Category #2, in a disaster, or with a book deadline, is what should get your attention. When this category is taken care of, you can be "done" enough with a book to send it in. Of all the things you might do, focus on the things that will make the book a better book, and things that you cannot save for later. Examples: structural changes to the narrative; important revisions to an argument that require new text; adding or deleting sections; perhaps the overall tone of your writing (but not micro-editing of sentences). The introduction and the first 40 pages or so should be as perfect as possible. You want to wow your editor.

Category #1 can wait for later if you don't have time. For the book, this includes making every sentence perfect (you'll be copyedited, so you can do that during copyediting), checking/correcting citations (ditto). Tweaking a particular section of an argument or a story can also happen during copyediting, if you don't have time now.

Category #3 consists of the things you once had in mind for the manuscript, but you never had a chance to visit that archive, interview that subject, etc. Practicality comes in when we're finishing books, and some ideas end up on the cutting room floor. This often makes a book better by keeping a focus. So the great jems that you neglect at the end are the ones that, even if you turned to them at this point, that work would either not make the book better, or not be possible to accomplish within the timeframe you have.

If you think you've taken care of everything in category #2, then get a good friend or mentor to read the manuscript, or part of it. Or talk the book through with someone new. They'll help you figure out if more is needed. And if you're confident that you've finished all the category #2 work, then turn back to the text, and focus on category #1.

Hope this is helpful! Let us know how it goes.

Brando Simeo Starkey

Hello all,

Thank you for the comments. They will help a lot over the next two months.

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