I just finished a book! (Thank you! Thank you! I’m patting myself on the back for you!) Edited, proofread, spell-checked and sent off to the agent. Now’s the worst part–waiting for something to happen with it. Trust me, that’s definitely futile. Better off to not think about it for awhile. Please, do NOT look at it any more. I’ve learned if I do, I’ll discover a gazillion more typos, head-hops, tense shifts, and all things that generally give me the yips because I didn’t find them on the last edit. This invariably happens as you’ve grown so close to the thing, it’s basically become invisible to you. Leading to the point your only recourse is to concede, the book is as done on your end as it’s ever going to get, and the only thing left to do is give it up. So you stop thinking about it, because the bald truth is if you spent 10,000 more hours on it, it still wouldn’t be finished, as it’s never really done until you find it on the shelf at the bookstore. Then what’s a writer to do in the interim?
Well for one thing–celebrate! You’ve finished a book! My own fin-de-libro ritual is to celebrate at a local tomato pie joint with a pair of good friends. We get one large sausage and one large plain, and we gorge ourselves silly along with a bottle of wine. The thing is my girls are pretty strict about enforcing the “must finish the book” rule before we’ll go. And I love these tomato pies so much (thinny-thin crispy crust, handmade, local sausage) it’s incentive enough. See, it’s important to do something special for yourself, even if it’s a night binge-watching all that TV you’ve forgone while you were working so hard. Finishing a book IS a big accomplishment. Why I have students who pale at the prospect of a three-page essay. Three hundred plus is phenomenal. Bask in your glorious achievement!
Because after it comes the real, well…after. At least for me, a kind of quiet falls over my writerly world. The characters in my head retreat to the background, the dust over my imaginary locales settle, all my conflicts resolve, my goals met. The high that had taken me to the end of my journey becomes a low hum until it, too, silences. Leaving me to wonder: now what?
Only you can decide how to transition from one book to the next, because If you plan on taking this writer thing seriously, there MUST be a next book. Very few people are born Harper Lee or J. D. Salinger. If you want to have a career in writing you need to either be working on a sequel or thinking up something new. One thing I firmly believe in is that writers write, and if you aren’t writing, then you better be reading. Attack that to-be-read pile, study your current genre or the one you want to attempt. Pick up a craft book, the latest bestseller, or anything that will keep you reading. It wouldn’t hurt to attend a Writers Conference, or a writers’ organization meeting, or attend a book signing or reading at the local bookstore or college. And here’s another thing I haven’t mentioned: if you’re unagented, it’d be a good time to look for one. Again, if you take this profession seriously, and you want to travel the traditional publishing route (as opposed to self-publishing), you’re going to need a literary agent. So maybe the next writing you should do is a query letter.
But before you do, pat yourself on the back. You’ve just finished a book! Between the time you finished it and the day you sell, you’ll have a lot to do and think about. For now, celebrate your accomplishment. You earned it!