I just finished what I initially considered to be the final draft of my second novel (by the way, if you’re looking for helpful step-by-step advice on how to complete your own final draft, this isn’t it). I formatted this final draft to look good on a Kindle or Kindle e-reader app. I asked a few friends if they want to be beta readers for it. I emailed my document to them. I thanked them in advance for volunteering. Then I opened the Kindle app on my phone and started reading my draft, from the beginning.
I found errors—typos, misspellings, unnecessary words, redundancy, bad grammar. I found awkward sentences I didn’t notice earlier. Paragraphs that are too short, clipped, and need to be expanded. Entire chapters that need polishing. And other things I didn’t bother with at the time, like making sure the geography of the city correlated reasonably well with reality. And then I started coming up with entirely new changes that will take some time to thread into the story (which, unfortunately, I can’t mention without spoiling the plot).
That’s when I realized this isn’t a final draft. This is my attempt to fool myself into thinking I’m further along than I really am. But when is a final draft really a final draft?
I did a DuckDuckGo search for the words “when is a final draft finished novel” (I try to avoid Google) and found, at the top of the search results, a class offered by the Iowa Summer Writing Festival titled The Final Draft: On Finishing and Knowing When You’ve Finished Your Novel. In other words, the answer to this innocuous question is valuable enough to be turned into a commodity that can be exchanged in the free market for money, like pork bellies.
Here’s my two cent answer: it’s like microwaving a bag of popcorn. Take the bag out too soon, chances are you’ve got too many unpopped kernels and it’s not finished. But leave it in too long, making sure every single kernel gets popped, you’re going to burn too many and ruin the whole thing.
So I took out my bag of popcorn a little too early. But I did this for a good reason. I need a break from working on my novel so I don’t completely blow off Christmas—and life in general. Step outside, get some fresh air, interact with real people instead of my imaginary friends. You know, those little, yet important things in life that helps keep one from turning into a socially awkward hermit. I also need to get a general impression of my novel from other people before I start pitching it at a couple of upcoming writing conferences (SDSU Writers' Conference, Jan 31-Feb 2, and the Southern California Writers' Conference, Feb 15-17). In any case, it’s almost finished. I think I can complete the actual, final draft in a couple of months and start querying agents in April.
And hey, it’s Christmas, a great time to take a break and have some popcorn.