So You Just Finished Writing Your Book or Screenplay… Now What?
Updated: Jun 24, 2020
Congratulations! You’ve just written the final word of your manuscript or typed out the much-anticipated “The End” to the one-hundred and thirty-five-page first draft of your screenplay.
You’ve certainly earned a night to celebrate with a big bowl of ice cream or fancy dinner with your significant other, but how long do you let yourself recoup and your work rest before jumping into rewrites?
Oh yeah. Rewrites.
How many of those will you go through before your manuscript is ready to submit? When will you know it’s ready? Is it even good enough? Maybe you’re not good enough. Maybe this was all just a waste of time. Maybe you should just put your manuscript on the shelf and move on to a real career path or goal in life like gardening, or teaching, or building a zero waste tiny home in Alaska where no one will ever have to hear about your stupid, pathetic ideas again.
Okay, we’re snowballing now and should probably stop, but these are real questions, real fears, and real doubts writers face every day, especially once they’ve finished their work.
Now there's a LOT that can be written and advice offered to new writers and writers who've recently finished a manuscript. The submission process is both daunting and unique to each writer and the genre they are writing in (i.e. screenwriting, playwriting, novels, short stories, etc.). I'll save my tips and tricks for submission for a later time.
For this post, I wanted to address those writers who've reached this milestone and may now be facing a growing wave of self-doubt and uncertainty about their next steps.
We've all been there.
Too many writers never see their work go anywhere because they lose faith in their manuscript, move on too quickly, or simply don't have the time or energy to send it out.
When that happens, the victory of a finished manuscript can soon feel like defeat, and reaching the top of one mountain can quickly turn into despair when you survey the other mountains ahead of you.
However, finishing a manuscript or screenplay, short story or poem is a milestone and should come with a moment of celebration,
You’ve spent weeks, months, or years of your life working to get to this point. You’ve persevered through the long nights, overcome creative obstacles, grown through the writing process, and seen something through to completion. The papers you now hold in your hand are the proof.
But what comes next?
That’s the real question that makes writers curious, excited, and sometimes even nervous about their future.
Here, then, are a few perspectives as you prepare for the next steps in your creative process.
Take Time to Celebrate Your Victories, Big and Small
If you’ve just finished a novel or screenplay, short story, song, or poem, you’ve done what many people in the world, writers included, have not. You’ve actually finished something, and that’s worth celebrating.
I get it. A finished chapter may not be a finished novel, just like a finished novel isn’t the same as a published novel, but smaller goals add up, and you have to acknowledge that you now have a finished manuscript in your hands that you didn't before. That is a victory that no one can take from you!
It’s important to commemorate milestones you’ve reached in your creative process and recognize the steps you've taken to bring you closer to your goals.
If you only celebrate once your novel becomes a New York Times bestseller or your screenplay sells for seven figures or wins an Academy Award, you might be waiting a long time. You may never get the chance to ever celebrate the great and good moments of life, and what a missed opportunity that would be.
It would be a like a rock climber refusing to celebrate summiting Mount Everest simply because he wasn't the first one to do it, or a toddler getting upset because she still can't do a backflip even though she just took her first step. I doubt any toddler has ever thought this, but you get my point.
Acknowledge progress, even in its smallest form.
There are far too many external factors in your life that are beyond your control.
When your book or screenplay sells.
When your story ends up on shelves or gets green lit by a movie studio.
How many copies of your book are sold or how many writers get brought in to rewrite your screenplay.
The end goal may be a published novel or produced screenplay, and you will still need to put in a lot of work to get there. Until then, celebrate the things you can control and measure your individual success on personal growth and measurable milestones, not the unpredictables of life. You'll be happier and sleep better when you do.
Accept that You’ve Reached a New Starting Line
It’s no coincidence that graduation ceremonies are called “commencements.”
They are designed to commemorate and celebrate students’ hard work and academic achievement. But they also exist to propel our new grads into a world where their knowledge, experience, talents, and training can be put into action.
A graduation is not the end of the race; it’s only the beginning. The same is true of your finished manuscript.
Unless you are one of those writers who only writes for yourself and has no intention of ever letting someone read your work (I hope that's never you), now is the time to figure out how to get your words in front of readers, and lots of them! Welcome to the next starting line!
I know what you're thinking. After weeks of letting your hot manuscript sit, you've finally come back and realized that it's not very good. Actually it might be terrible! Is it time to revisit the zero waste, tiny home idea? Stop it.
Now you can begin revisions.
It's up to you whether that encourages or excites you. But most first drafts aren't very good anywhere. It may need several revisions before it's ready to send out. That's okay. If you celebrated first milestone of finishing your manuscript, now you can look forward to celebrating the next one, which is making it better and eventually getting others to read and experience what you've written for themselves.
How Deep is Your Love?
You’ve made it this far, but I hope you still have enough energy and enthusiasm left in the tank because you’re going to need it, and not just for rewrites.
The question you now have to ask is, what next steps deserve your best energy?
You probably wrote your fingers to the bone during the writing process. Good. Athletes remind us that we have to practice how we want to play. If we cut corners during our training, we're going to see the results in our performance.
Let’s hope you didn’t cheat to get to this point. It’ll show if you did. But you’re here, so I’ll assume you didn’t.
However, practice is meant to prepare you for the race, not take you out of it.
If you burned out writing your manuscript and now have no energy left to rewrite, market, or promote your work, there’s a problem.
It’s true that you cannot always control when your book sells or how well it does on the market, but don’t let your finished manuscript become just another personal journal collecting dust on your shelf because you lack the confidence in your story or aren’t willing to apply the same energy and resources to sending it out.
If you want people to read you work, you have to be willing to fight just as hard for it off the page as you did on the page. And if you cared enough to write it, why wouldn’t you care enough to share it?
It's Time to Run with the Baton
Writing may be a lonely life, but when you write, you now have the baton. This is your race to run and story to write and no one else's.
I understand that you’ll want to make those who’ve invested in you and supported you along the way proud. But if you’re so worried about pleasing those who’ve come before you or impressing those around you, you’ll quickly lose focus on what’s right in front of you. You’ll be too focused on applause and approval and not your goals.
You are ultimately the one firing your own starting gun. Finishing the manuscript was the first leg of your race. Now you've passed the baton to the editor and later marketer in you. Don’t wait permission to take action! Don’t wait for approval or a pat on the back to take off! And don’t wait for someone else’s okay before you take that risky next step.
Doors will open for you in the days to come, but more often than not, as a writer, you will have to knock and maybe kick down a few doors to get to where you want to go.
Dare to knock.
Dare to apply boot to door.
Dare to acknowledge your mistakes and improve upon your failures.
Dare to push past rejection.
But also dare to share even your imperfect work. If you wait until your writing is perfect in your eyes, no eyes will ever see it but your own.
Perfection can be a mask for fear and a vehicle for self-doubt. Life is too short to live in fear. Fear is the obstacle that keeps many writers from finishing their work and the wet cement that keeps finished writers from gaining any traction in their careers.
So don’t let fear take you out of the race when you’re actually much closer to reaching your goal than you probably realize.
The Lion Doesn’t Concern Itself with the Opinions of the Sheep
Yes. I just quoted Games of Thrones’ Tywin Lannister, but I think there’s incredible wisdom in these words that all artists should adopt.
Are you a sheep, or are you a lion when it comes to your writing, especially when dealing with the opinions of others?
I’m not saying you shouldn’t listen to feedback. You should definitely seek out readers and mentors whose feedback you trust. You will probably have to rewrite and rework your manuscript, and trusted readers may help you pick up on areas of weakness you may not have noticed before. However, you have to be careful about whose opinion you let influence you and the story you are trying to tell.
Everyone is going to have opinions about your work. Not everyone will like it. Many won’t. Don’t let negative reviews or opinions stop or hold you back.
If you believe in your story, stand by it. You may be asked to defend your creative choices, but that shouldn’t discourage you. Rather, if you love what you do and are proud of what you’ve written, you should be just as excited to talk about it.
If you don’t believe you’ve written something worth reading, why did you devote so much of your time and energy to writing it?
Belief is what brought turned a flash of an idea into a first sentence.
Belief sustained you through the long nights and gave you the courage to push through patches of writer’s block and self-doubt.
Now it’s time for your belief to take what was once written in solitude out into the world for others to experience.
And just remember, if your story inspired you to write and keep writing, there’s a good chance that it will inspire others too. You just have to keep running.
So congratulation, storyteller! You’ve earned this moment to celebrate reaching a milestone in your career. Now get back to work and get your work out there so you can move on to your next great idea. We’re waiting.
Thank you so much for reading. As always, if you liked this post, touch the heart below, and if you loved it, don’t forget to subscribe to Perspectives off the Page for updates and new content. And if you know a fellow student or writer who can benefit from these words, pass them along.
Until then, stay inspired, stay healthy, and please continue to love and support those in need.
Until Today, Storytellers