It’s finally summer, and with summer comes a cavalcade of writers making resolutions to finish their darned manuscripts. Maybe it’s partly because writers in academia finally have a little time away from grading in the precious summer months, because the gorgeous weather gets those endorphins pumping, or simply because nobody wants to spend another cold and miserable fall staring at the same project they stared at all through the last cold and miserable fall. Maybe it’s the memory of too many summers where we didn’t accomplish much more than having a number of excellent piña coladas (hey, I’m not judging), and we’re feeling a tad guilty. Whatever the reason, it seems to me that “finish the book” is even more a rallying cry among writers in the summer months than it is in around New Year’s.
There are plenty of good reasons to keep slogging away during the summer months, even if the piña coladas are calling your name. When it comes to submissions—particularly submissions of full-length poetry collections—deadlines are headed this way. Quite a few major contests set their deadlines in September. Other Big Deal book contests open up in the fall; if you wrap work on your book by late August, you’re ready to hit two rounds of competitions. (If that doesn’t sound all that appealing to you, just consider the number of contests a typical poet needs to enter before landing a book contract. Hitting two contest seasons at the same time is actually a brilliant move.)
I’m in manuscript-finishing mode myself, putting in what I hope are the final few drafts of the novel I’ve been working on over the past two years. These are the grim drafts—the ones during which I use every color of highlighter I’ve ever owned to mark up causal relationships, stimulus/response transactions, logical inconsistencies, and every other technical drudgery that exists in fiction writing. I’m looking forward to the last draft—the one in which I’ll get to fine-tune, polish, and shine. But first, I’ve got to get through the re-crafting mire. Luckily for me, I’ve got my trusty writing partner holding me accountable for my own deadlines and helping me find the problems I’ve gone to bleary-eyed with the process to see in my own work.
But let’s say you don’t have a writing partner or a critique group that’s ready and willing to handle a full-book revision with you. How are you supposed to get through the process, stay focused, and resist the siren song of the piña colada? This very problem was something that Jeannine Gailey and I talked about earlier this spring, and we decided—can you see where this is going?—that we wanted to offer poets a place where they could gather together and work collaboratively on finishing their books before the onslaught of deadlines. You can learn more about the class we’re facilitating over at Gailey and Davio Writers’ Services, and even apply if you feel the poetry spirit move you.
Even if you’re not ready to sign up for a full class, consider picking up some great books to help you along. For the poets out there, Ordering the Storm is a must-read before you decide on a shape for your manuscript. Writing nonfiction? Ann Patchett’s This is the Story of a Happy Marriage is a master class on the personal essay. Finally, for you fiction folks, get yourself a copy of How to Write a Damn Good Novel (don’t worry—it’s not by that James Frey) for some great ideas on shaping your story for maximum drama.