At the End of Your Novel

It began as an idea, then it grew into a project. You sweated, you cried, you bled, until finally, you wrote two magic words at the bottom of your manuscript: THE END.

Your novel isn’t perfect, but it’s done. Sometimes, just finishing it is enough. It might not be the literary, action-packed masterpiece you envisioned in your head. It might be messy, but it’s yours. This is something you can hold in your hands and say, “I wrote a book.”

I like to print out my finished manuscript. There’s something real about holding those pages in your hands, especially if your drafting process was done on a screen. When we write on a screen, we process information differently than when we write on paper. This might be the first time you’ve ever seen your words on paper. So go ahead. Print it out. Make a table of contents. Design a fun cover and put your book on display. Pop a cork and brag about it to all your friends and family. Brag on social media. You’ve earned it.

Sure, there will be revisions. There will be rounds and rounds of editing. And once you get a book contract, there will be even more rounds of editing. So take some time off to celebrate and relax. Go on vacation. Play a video game. Take yourself out to dinner. Let me say it again: you’ve earned it.

Many writers are driven, high achievers. We have a day job, a family, volunteer causes, all while trying to write on the side. Once we finish the first draft, we want to jump immediately back into the story and fix things. Don’t undervalue the importance of rest. Taking a break from the manuscript recharges your creative batteries. It gives you fresh eyes for when you do come back. There will be plenty of work waiting for you later.

A few thoughts on the ‘later.’ Say your first draft is completed. You’ve taken your rest and you’ve gone through a few drafts of self-revisions. How do you know your revisions are done? That is a tricky question. After five years of self-revising my novel, I finally feel like I’ve done enough. I can offer a few suggestions from what I’ve learned along the way.

Get outside feedback. Give your novel to kind friends or family. If you have the budget to hire a professional editor, their advice can be invaluable.

Write summaries. Condensing your novel into one paragraph, two paragraphs, or two pages will help you zoom out and see the big picture. It will highlight areas to improve and enable you to see the story without slogging through hours in the trenches of your manuscript. Also, you will have these summaries on hand for when you start preparing your book proposal down the road.

Trust your gut. Sometimes you feel like a scene isn’t working, but you don’t know why. Don’t ignore those instincts. Explore them. If you can’t figure it out immediately, write a note and come back later.

Be patient with yourself. Novels are complex, layered, living organisms. They take time to construct and shape.

Persevere.

The moment when you know your book is truly done may be elusive. You might feel, several times, that your book is “done,” but there’s something nudging in your gut, or the back of your head, saying “but what about this?” Don’t rush the process. Take your time. You will get there, one step at a time.

Bringing a novel to a conclusion is about more than finishing your plot or polishing your prose. Your characters defeat the villain and ride off into the sunset, hopefully wiser than before. As an author, it feels a bit like watching your child drive off to college. You birthed them, taught them to ride a bike, and now here they are, itching to leave you.

Finishing a novel is a good and healthy thing—not only for your sense of accomplishment, but for your soul. It’s a place of peace. You’ve said all you can say, as well as you can say it. Now open your hands and let it go.

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