Is it ever finished?

That’s the question I’ve been asking myself.


Last September, I finished my novel – and sent it forth to the unwelcoming bosom of agent land.

Now, I’ve just finished it again. Due, it has to be said, to my first foray into that strange world.

Not that it was really that awful. There were a few who seemed to like it and asked for the whole manuscript. But, that’s where it ended.

Some others were quite nice in response and a decent number gave constructive comments. One even liked it a good bit, but not quite enough to read the whole magnum opus.

Thankfully, I haven’t despaired. Mainly because I have a day job – one that has been turned all the way up to 11 for much of this year in terms of workload.

A few months ago, I tried a different tack and sent a submission to a scout. Yes, a new being for me. Not a publisher, not an agent, but a scout for agents.

The scout seemed to like it, but suggested some changes and additions. All of which made sense.

So, I opened up Draft 22, and started on Draft 23.

Novels are, as we know, one entity, so if you make changes at the start (some in the form of content, others stylistic) it has a ripple effect, or multiple ripple effects. The changes have to be consistent throughout the novel.

I went through the entire thing, like a jaded jungle explorer, hacking away.

When you rewrite, there is the fresh potential of new spelling/grammar mistakes. That requires (for me at any rate) another run through, to proofread. For that I printed the thing out. It’s funny when you print it out you see more that needs to change than when you worked on it on the screen. So it turns into more than proofreading, and you make more content changes. And it goes on….

You are frustrated, exhausted, partially blinded (from familiarity), and, at the same time, battling our old friend – doubt and self-criticism.

There is that terrible sensation that you are making it worse, by taking this out, putting that in, rewriting this, deleting that. You can write it to death.

But, at your centre, you have to keep your focus and breathe oxygen into that belief that there is something in this.

Draft 23 has been sent to said scout.

Draft 23 is better than Draft 22. That is true.

But could I subject myself to Draft 24? Or will I mentally (perhaps even physically) fling it into the canal (where my novel is set)?

If a scout, agent, publisher does bite, I’m sure there could be Draft 24 and 25. But that’s different. Because you have jumped that obstacle. There’s progress. Someone else (apart from your wife/mother/dog/cat) actually sees something in it.

Anyway, to all of us going half or three-quarters or nine-tenths bonkers from finishing our first novel, keep hacking/shoveling/polishing.

To torture the much tortured phrase from the tortured Irishman…

Finish. Finish better.





About Cormac O'Keeffe

I've written a novel. And, it's going to be published. This April. Mad, or what? It's entitled 'Black Water' and is a crime novel set in Dublin's gangland, along the evocative Grand Canal. This blog is about that bumpy journey, which is about to get really exciting. You'll also find some photography on this blog, particularly snaps that relate to my novel, much of it centred along the canal. There are also some reviews, both fiction and non-fiction, many of them published in the Irish Examiner, a daily national newspaper in Ireland. I work as security correspondent there and have specialist interests in crime, drugs, policing, the justice system, communities and human rights. Both my personal life and my professional life have fed into my novel, or, rather, have been poured into it. My novel was granted a literature bursary by the Irish Arts Council in September 2014 and my journalistic work has won multiple awards from the Law Society of Ireland over many years, most recently in 2015.
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9 Responses to Is it ever finished?

  1. jjtoner says:

    For god’s sake self-publish on Amazon and get to work marketing your book. Scouts, agents, publishers, publishers’ editors – all hopeless gatekeepers are yesterday’s men. Honestly, Cormac, take an unjaundiced look at indie publishing. It’s the way of the future. Ask Laurence if you don’t believe me. He is self-publishing his own books, now.

    • Very interesting JJ. I suppose I just don’t know much about it and don’t have much time to devote to self-publishing. But maybe I will have to do that. It is something I will definitely look at okay.

  2. Susan Condon says:

    I can relate on all fronts, Cormac! If it’s any consolation James Patterson was rejected 31 times and look at him now!

  3. Thanks Susan. I haven’t spoken to you in a while. How is your own novel going?

  4. Susan Condon says:

    I’d parked it after two agents and one publisher requested the entire Ms and came back with positive feedback but no offer to represent and two more with an outright no. Polished, well-written, engaging characters – but, sorry …

    I’ve been working on flash fiction, short stories and poetry but feel ready to try again. Maybe a small element of luck also required – right place, right time. We can but keep trying 😄

    • andy carter says:

      There is a huge element of luck involved, I think. It’s a matter of getting it before the right person (be they publisher, agent or scout) at the right time. I was rejected so many times before getting that wonderful phone-call from my agent. And the rejections that hurt the most are those that come after requests for the full MS, but they’re the ones that mean you are close.
      Although if you can’t do anything more with book one, I’d start on book two. I know everyone’s experience is different but that’s what I did…Whatever you do, don’t give up!

      • Thanks Andy. Yeah, I feel I am nearly ready to start book 2, though as it’s the second in the series, I’m not uncertain as to the point of it.
        But I’m pretty sure I will start the second – and see where it goes. Though this time I will outline some sort of plan, as the first was all over the place!

    • Very interesting Susan. Sounds there is something in it, but, a bit like me, just not enough for them to bite. The thought of abandoning my novel (though an increasing possibility), is depressing. But, it’s encouraging that you have been able to try other things. Best of luck

      • Susan Condon says:

        You too, Cormac. Maybe the smartest thing is to keep submitting while working on the next. It all pushes us in the right direction. Catch up soon. 😄

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