Seven Things to Remember about Finishing a Novel

1_29The waxing moon was setting into an oncoming blizzard just at sunrise this morning. Amazing, swirls of cloud and color. I wish you all could have seen it.

Last week, B.E. Sanderson, frequent commenter here, had a post on her blog about finishing manuscripts. She’s been doing a lot of interesting posts lately aimed at aspiring writers. This one caught my attention because, hello! Star Trek and science references. I ended up commenting, too, which I don’t seem to do all that much of anymore. 

I’ve become the blog-lurker your marketing-advisor warned you about.

At any rate, the discussion was about what to do when you hit that point in your novel where you just don’t want to write it anymore. Every writer has a place where this tends to happen – and for a lot of writers, it’s somewhere around the 30K mark. Worse, it’s very likely that you’ll be tempted at this point to pursue the New Shiny. You’ll get this Fabulous Idea for an even better novel. The temptation to ditch that 30K brick and write the New Shiny will be extreme.

And, if you do this, the New Shiny will be all kinds of rewarding. Until, oh, around the 30K mark. Then guess what?

Exactly. This is why so many hopeful authors have half-finished novels lurking on their hard drives.

I make this distinction, between a hopeful author and a publishing author, because – and I know this is simple logic, but here it is, just to be clear – in order to be a published author YOU MUST FINISH THE BOOK.

Yes, yes, yes – there’s a whole lot more to getting published than that. But we all know this is the first step. Nothing else happens without it.

So, here’s a little list of things to remember about finishing the book.

  1. The New Shiny is an illusion. That idea is the greener grass on the other side of the fence. It’s the nubile young girlfriend. In the end, it won’t make you any happier than the manuscript you’ve been married to. Write it down and save it for later.
  2. Apropos of that? Ideas will keep. It may not feel like it, in the rush of inspiration, but once it comes to you, it’s yours. Write down whatever you need to so that you can reconnect with it again in the future. You know what they say about True Love – if he really loves you, he’ll wait.
  3. There’s a reason why it’s always the same place for you. It comes out of you and how you deal with the world. This is like the guy who always dates women who need rescuing or the gal who ends up in dead-end jobs where she’s treated like a doormat. Growing as a person means solving this problem. So if you have trouble getting started, look at what else in your life you have trouble starting. Other people can never finish stuff. Then practice overcoming this barrier – your own personal three-minute mile. Train, persevere – know that you can do it.
  4. There’s also a reason why it’s so often the 25-30K mark for so many writers. If you figure a typical novel is 80-120K, then 20-30K is the first 25%. In story structure, even if you think you’re not using it, the first 25% is Act I. In the classic Boy-Meets-Girl/Boy-Loses-Girl/Boy-Gets-Girl-Back scenario, you’ve finished the meeting. In the hero’s journey (get your hero up a tree, throw rocks at him, get him down again), you will have gotten your characters into a major predicament. It’s a natural ending spot. Intermission. Now what?
  5. There’s the rub. The “now what?” part is one of the hardest parts. Thus the oft-referenced “sagging middle” of many stories. See, in classic story structure, Act II takes up a full half. It stretches from about the first 25% up to around 75%. It is the bulk of your story. That’s a lot of rock-throwing. We’ve all read those books that start out great and then, somewhere in the middle, we get bored. We might put it down and never finish. We kind of wonder where the whole thing is going. But then (hopefully!) it starts to pick up again and it gallops on to a rollicking finish. This is why.
  6. So, what do you do? Reference #3. Practice. Keep going. Yes, it’s a slog. Complain to your writer friends and they will nod in sympathy and offer you cookies. Then get back to work. For me, if I understand why I want to stop, that makes it easier to keep going.
  7. Now here’s a cookie for you: once you get through the long slog, you will start to have fun again. All that promise and joy the New Shiny offered? This is EVEN BETTER. The ride to the end will feel like that last downhill swoop on the log ride with a huge splash of water at the end. So much so that, as you hit that final save, you’ll want to get right back on and do it again.

Now, get back to it!

8 Replies to “Seven Things to Remember about Finishing a Novel”

  1. Great post, Jeffe! And I’m so glad my own post could spark it. That one did open up quite a dialogue over there.

    My problem, I think, isn’t that I get stuck at any percentage between the first words and THE END. I get distracted by the new and shiny when it comes time to edit (and sometimes when it’s time to do the edit to the nth power) something I’m done writing. It’s like my brain says ‘been there, done that – NEXT!’ which still isn’t going to get me any closer to getting published. I didn’t used to be this way. Over the years, I’ve developed an annoying, nasty, snotty witch in my head who berates the storyteller telling her it’s good, but it’ll never be good enough to get published, so why bother. (Which may be a topic for another post.)

    1. That’s very interesting about the editing. I’m not one of those writers who loves revising, so I devote a lot of energy to producing clean copy in the first place. But not doing it out of a sense of despair isn’t a good thing. I think that IS a topic for another post – we should both do one!

  2. I love this post–Jeffe. I like the part about the New Shiny being an illusion. True, and a useful one that, like in love, it gets us started. This post is like relationship advice for your novel–how to make it last. So far, I haven’t had this problem–I like to finish things. Sometimes, things I probably should have abandoned at 30K, but which I ended up rewriting the first 30K to over, and over, and over again.

    Thanks for the thoughts!

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