Most writers will never finish a story to their satisfaction. There are always things that can be improved, chapters that can be added - or taken away for that matter. Some writers are tormented with the grand finale that their masterpieces stay forever as a WIP. Now that's not saying that the books are left teetering on that cliffhanger ending - usually the story is in place it just needs... well more work.
This is the important thing any budding author really needs to remember - when you first type "the end" you mean the end of draft one. When I last posted I was on draft four. But what do these stages even mean? Well to be helpful I can start by saying everyone is different. Some people will only do a couple of drafts, others could be rewriting for years. A lot depends on the story, what you want to do with it and how much of a perfectionist you are.
I'm a perfectionist but also a completest. I hate having things hovering over me so I will work like my life depends on it to get drafts finished promptly. Which explains the bags under my eyes and lack of social life.
The hardest draft is always the first. It can take the longest and usually, at least for me, is the most frustrating to finish. How you approach this draft is really up to you. Some people plan meticulously, others wing it. I do a mixture of both, but by the end any plans I have made have usually been discarded by the characters and I'm restructuring the story based on gut. I always have an end game though and I will always write this last. The rest is written as I'm inspired. And then it's rewritten. Chapter by chapter, two steps forward one step back. It's a familiar dance - not one I'm fond of but one I'm an expert in.
The second draft - my favorite - is taking your rough script and shaping it into something beautiful. Some writers can be more complete with this draft, but personally I like to use this as an opportunity to get things in order - take notes (because this is when you'll find if your plot actually makes sense) and put in imagery and stuff like that. I'm not smart enough to start a story with lots of clever clues and insights throughout the book. They all get added at this stage instead.
The third draft can be polishing - tidying up those tatty paragraphs and proofing. But this time for me it wasn't. For me this latest book was about consistency of authorial voice... yeah I know I sound like I know what I'm talking about don't I? My biggest problem is that I have an original first story - a story people seem to like and this story has a style. Sometimes I'm prone to waffling (can't you tell) and sometimes, in my most cringy moments I sound like someone who writes chick-lit. I have nothing against chick-lit, but that isn't my voice - I like to think I have more of a deep New Yorker voice (you know because I'm from Yorkshire living in Wales).
So during this draft I chopped the floral sections, deleted characters from scenes to make the dialogue run slicker and then headed on to draft four in the hope this would be it. Of course it wasn't because life just doesn't work that way, but finally we are on to draft five which will hopefully be the fifth nail in the perfect coffin. And hopefully then the betas will get a chance to get their hands dirty.
Whatever number it is your final draft should be a last once over. You shouldn't be chopping and changing chapters. This should be the final buff before the piece goes on display. What you're looking for is spelling errors, misuse of words, things that don't make sense. Not gaping plot holes!! And hey you are not going to pick everything up but when you read those final words "the end" in your gut you should know that this is it.
Getting to the grand finale as an indie is a very difficult step to make and sometimes you may never feel sure that you've actually made it. There is no one to slap you down and tell you to go back and try again... actually that's not true, there is - readers. But by the time readers are leaving you bad reviews you've already screwed up.
So are you there yet? Is this the end? Yes, you say. I've done it - I'm ready lets get published. NOT SO FAST. You only think you're ready. Now it's time to pass it over to the experts. Cue Beta Readers...
I'm currently writing my latest book and getting it ready for self-publication. This will be the eighth book I have published. The second full novel in my Reacher series. I'm going to document the whole debacle so if you have any tips or ideas then let me know - just think of me as your writing guinea pig.