DONE Is A Four Letter Word by Kathrese McKee

DONE. Writers long for the day they can type “The End” at the end of their manuscripts, but “The End” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. We all know “The End” means “the end of the beginning.” The first draft leads to the revision phase, and the revision phase leads to editing, then more revision and editing, and when you do type “The End” for the last time, you know it’s probably still not the end. Other people get involved: beta readers, editors, agents, and your mother. Finally, after all of that, “The End” means DONE.

I reached DONE recently on my first manuscript; my hands were empty, and so was my mind. My muse hung up on me, and the dial tone grew loud in my ear. Nowhere to go. Nothing to do next.

DONE is a terrible place to be for a writer. DONE is a four-letter word, and it feels like—pardon me, men—it feels like postpartum depression. Or like your best friend moved out of the country. Momentum evaporates, your sails hang limp while you loll in the doldrums, and your brain fills with clouds. DONE. Finished. Kaput.

Thankfully, DONE didn’t last forever, but it would have been much less depressing if I’d been prepared. I might have avoided the pit of despair if I’d planned ahead for DONE. Oh sure, I’ve been reading Other Peoples’ Books and blogging. I’ve discovered that my children still live at home. Just kidding. I stayed busy, but my muse was nowhere to be found.

I’m new to writing novels. Perhaps it’s understandable for a first-time novelist to put every brain cell into that first book, but for the future, I’d prefer not to reach DONE again. A writer’s business is to write, to produce, and although slow times are inevitable and rest is essential, coming to a full stop makes it difficult to gain momentum again. I’m not suggesting that we switch projects at random in a desperate attempt to stay busy. That’s a prescription for never reaching “The End.” There must be a way to balance between the two extremes of having a dozen unfinished projects and being stuck at zero.

The good news is I recently found my “moose” lurking in the bushes near the back door and started on my next book. Also, you don’t have to experience DONE the way I did. The trick is to have other work on the back burner, and just as when you’re cooking, stir that pot of beans every so often as you work on the main dish. You might even have more than one side dish warming up in the background. Tend those future works as you have the chance, or when you need a short break from crafting your WIP. Brainstorm. Outline. Journal. Research. Avoid being DONE.

My second WIP is underway, now, but I’ve also started preparations for another, less urgent project for the future. For me, it’s vital to have one or two things to work on when I need time away from the main project–to think, to recharge, or to get feedback from critique partners.

The other part of my new strategy is to ramp up the second project during the revision phase for the WIP. When I’m nearly DONE on this manuscript, the next story will be piping hot. And naturally, that’s the time to begin preparing another story on the side, always building, feeding momentum, staying on the right side of creativity.

When you get close to DONE, what works best for you to stay productive and avoid burnout?

 ~*~

Kathrese McKee

6 comments

  1. One of my biggest fears is that I’ll finish a project and not have another story idea for the next book. It hasn’t happened yet, but I don’t have these rushes of dozens of ideas like some authors have. I usually only have one or two ideas lurking behind the one I’m working on. Maybe if the full time job didn’t take up so much brain space, it would be different. :)(

  2. I’m finding that blogging a short round of flash fiction, short stories, or fiction installments to a novella about one of my characters keeps me writing every day, and not stalling out in the creative backwaters. But yes, I was there last year, and am just now recovering! It can be rough. Thanks for this post!🙂

    1. Thanks Stacey and Bethany! Many times we think we’re DONE, and it’s really just a pause between edits. Too, we may need to force ourselves to let go after the work is truly done.

      More than anything, though, I dread being so DONE that I can’t think what to do next. I love your suggestion of writing something about my characters that is fresh. Who knows where that might lead?

  3. Kathrese, I don’t have a problem starting the next book. I’ve found my problem to be staying in one genre! If I could stick with one group of readers it would be helpful. Great post!

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