How to Finish Writing Your Novel

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How to Finish Writing Your Novel

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I have to be honest here at  I've been trying to finish writing novels for many years, and I never could do it.  My problem may sound familiar:  I'd run out of ideas, I'd rewrite the beginning, and then my novel would turn into another story.  Then the dreaded cycle would repeat. 

Finally, I finished writing the rough draft of my first novel!  As you might imagine, I felt like bouncing off the ceiling in glee.  I'm also mystified as to why it worked this time and not the other times, so I thought I'd try to analyze the situation.  Maybe I can even help someone else with the following insights.

What may have enabled me to finish:

  • I'm getting fascinated with the internet and self-publishing.  Both have existed for more than ten years.  However, back in the early 1990s, anybody getting published without major commercial connections looked unlikely.  If my unread manuscripts were going to end up in my sock drawer, why pour my life into writing them?  I now find it highly motivating to know that I can always self-publish and reach a small readership via the internet.  What fun!
  • I started reviewing books.  Thinking about books sharpened my analytical skills.  Writing the reviews improved my writing skills.  Reading so many books taught me what to do and what to avoid in fiction. 
  • I took a break from fantasy, and started reading mysteries and thrillers.  It helped to streamline and strengthen my ability to plot, and to improve my pacing.
  • I told several people that I was writing my first novel.  Of course then I had to stick to it – or face a lot of awkward explanation!

My first thoughts after finishing:

  • I'm giddy with amazement that I managed to finish writing this novel!  I've done something that I never thought I could do.  Writing a novel is something that many people want to do but haven't yet.
  • That said, I realize that not every reader is going to like my book, but every reader is entitled to his or her opinion.  That's all it is:  an opinion.  As a reviewer, I've had plenty of those, and I've also disliked any number of books for any number of reasons.  It's nothing to take personally. 

Helpful techniques that kept me writing:

  • I never stopped to revise, but kept writing original material until I finished the rough draft.
  • I outlined future scenes as I thought of them, which kept me focused.
  • I sketched in scenes using dialog and short action-scenes to keep moving forward.
  • I skipped the elaborate crafting of descriptions on the first draft.  Instead, I just inserted [fill this in later] and kept writing.  Otherwise the urge for perfectionism would have killed my momentum.  I can lavish time on descriptions during the re-write. 
  • I realized it doesn't matter if my rough draft is badly written.  It's more about getting my ideas in place, and then I can refine my writing style on the rewrite.

Further thoughts:

  • I'd rather not give detailed physical descriptions of my main characters.  As a reader, I don't mind if other authors do, and most do.  But I like the idea that each reader develops his own image of the character even without much description.  In the Earthsea fantasy series by Ursula K. Le Guin, all we know about the hero is that he's short and has dark skin and a scarred face.  Even so, I imagined a detailed look for him.
  • I noticed myself scattering repetitive phrases and actions through my rough draft like a shorthand place-holder that allowed me to keep writing.  For example, every time something major happened, my characters broke into a sweat.  Or their lips thinned.  I mean, constantly!  This is harmless in the rough draft, but needs to be deleted or replaced in the revision.  As a reader, I go nuts when a character in a published book (often a mystery) repeats the same phrase or quirky habit (like fiddling with his glasses) on every other page.
  • I had to drop completely off the landscape as far as online socializing goes.  I mean, I didn't even keep up with my own websites for weeks at a time.  There has to be a way to multi-task, but if I could only do one thing, I'm glad I made certain to write.
  • For fun, I saved a copy of my rough draft with all redundant, deleted scenes added back in, which increased the final page count from 412 to 533.  That copy I'm preserving as comic relief, ha, ha!  I'm also keeping it as proof against any insecure moment in my future when I might believe that my first book turned out polished the first time and I can no longer remember how to do that!  The truth is that perfectionism kills my momentum, but it no longer has to be that way. 

Very best of luck with your own writing!

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