What does it take to finish writing your novel?

the endSo, I finally did it. A month behind schedule I have the second draft of my first ever novel, That which is left is lostI know that I still have a lot of work to do but I also know that this draft is massively improved to my original – written during NaNoWriMo 2011 and finished just before November 2012. It has taken a long time for me to be able to read the story back and determine the best route for my characters. So many changes have been made on the way and these haven’t just been to my narrative. I’ve changed too.

Since starting this novel in 2011 I have written two others. The first draft for a young adult novel and another first draft intended to be a sequel to That which is left is lost. In part, writing these made me really question the quality of my first novel and led to me to rewriting the whole thing over the past few months. While I spent 2013 trying unsuccessfully to edit that story, it wasn’t until I sat down to tackle the rewrite that I really discovered all the issues that it had. Half-formed characters, unknown motivations and lapsed story threads plagued my original draft and even the sections I had attempted to edit were lacking the pace and narrative structure to adaquately tell the story I wanted to share.

finish novelIn the rewriting of it I had more control. I knew what was supposed to happen when, who was integral to the plot and why they were involved to begin with. So many more things were clear to me during the rewrite and I think that is because over the past few years I’ve developed my skill as a writer. I still don’t feel adept at writing stories. I still have so much left to learn. But I know this much: writing those two novels in between this draft and my original copy of That which is left is lost, really helped me to understand story structure and to develop character. Now I truly understand why it is so rare for a debut novelist to be published with their inaugural novel – because good writing, storytelling and description take time to develop.

The process of writing a novel is not something that can be taught. People can advise and suggest ways for you to get started or to keep your motivation going or even how to celebrate when you finish. But they can’t write the book for you, nor can they tell you what is best for the story you are trying to tell. All of that has to come from you. As a result, it needs nurturing and caring for; the idea needs time to sit and ferment. I think writers can get drunk on the possibility of new ideas and then, when they emerge out of the other side they realise, in a hungover state, that perhaps it wasn’t such a genius plan after all – that they’ve written themselves into a corner or lost the spark that they believed was the glint of literary gold. Ideas need work, and so often that takes longer than we want it to.

However, I’m now done with this draft of my novel. I’m sending it out into a very select group of people who I hope will read it for what it is: a promise of what could be. There are still so many elements of my story that I know need work (like altering my overuse of eye movement and involving the other senses more) but what I really need to know now is if the story is strong enough, if my characters ring true and if the words I have written have the effect I intended them to.

I always find that when you finish a novel and you write those words ‘The End’ it is a very anti-climatic moment. There is no spontaneous applause, no balloons suddenly appear and no-one in the world knows what you have just acheived until you share it with them. Completing a novel is a very personal, private affair that often occurs in silence and seriousness. There is the weight of all that you have done on your shoulders and the fear that it will not live up to what you believe it could be. Yet, there is also pride and satisfaction in knowing that you have done what you set out to do, that you stuck with it through the difficult times and now you have something whole to show for it. Not to mention that now, thanks to the advent of modern technology, you can shout your success from the rooftops and share in your glory with others who know just how it feels to write those final words.

totally did it



10 responses to “What does it take to finish writing your novel?

  1. Congratulations on finishing that draft Cat, great job!! I felt every single word of that post… it so accurately nails several of the most salient points about the writing journey (that phrase should have sounded less pompous!) Learning through re-writes, changing as a person as well as a writer, the anticlimax of The End; all of those struck a massive chord. Shout away, the world is listening 🙂

  2. Congrats! I knew you could do it. And I feel you about the whole “nothing left, doesn’t feel done” thing. I finished my third draft, and I didn’t feel happy. I just felt…empty.

    Then I shipped it off to my betas and let it stew for a month. The comments back told me what I felt: it’s almost there, it’s almost ready, and I’m excited for seeing it over and done with. Here’s hoping that your betas give you some changes to be excited about.

  3. Such an interesting post, Cat. Congratulations on finishing your second draft of the novel. I like the way you are reflecting on your journey and how much you have learned along the way. 🙂

  4. When I finished my novel, just as I typerd the words “The End”, a massive bolt of lightning killed the marching band that fate ordained walk past my front window at that point.

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