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How do you know if your book is finished?

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It has been a busy summer for the Literary Man, but in spite of his penchant for literary trivia and other such fare, he has finally managed to crank out a readable draft of his novel.  It feels finished (which is to say, it makes a pretty good doorstop); it looks finished (meaning, there are hundreds of coffee-ring stains throughout its incomprehensible pages); it smells finished (well, okay, it smells like paper, but still). But how do you know when it’s really finished?

There is, of course, the question of rewriting to consider. In discussion with the Paris Review Hemingway shared a few interesting thoughts:

Interviewer: How much rewriting do you do?
Hemingway: It depends. I rewrote the ending of Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, 39 times before I was satisfied.
Interviewer: Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?
Hemingway: Getting the words right.
(Ernest Hemingway, “The Art of Fiction,” The Paris ReviewInterview, 1956)
The opposite argument can be made for just blazing through a single version of a book, i.e. Kerouac’s ON THE ROAD, and keeping your maniacal scroll preserved for all of eternity. But which method is preferable? Which method is more literary?

Let there be words.

From the book “Ancient Gonzo wisdom: interviews with Hunter S. Thompson,” Thompson admitted that FEAR AND LOATHING had “about four rewrites. It’s a writer’s book. It’s probably one of the most disciplined things I’ve ever written, much more so than political writing.” And yet it seems so frantic and disorganized, like some kind of stereotype of genius.

The Doctor of Journalism

And then of course, there’s the infamous Faulkner quote: “In writing, you must kill your darlings.”

"Through the fence, between the curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting."

About the Author

Literary Man

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