I went for years not finishing anything. Because, of course, when you finish something you can be judged.
– Erica Jong
Starting things is easy, right? Relationships, diets, runs, New Year’s resolutions – we dive in, full of enthusiasm. Of course we’ll stick to it. Of course we’ll see it through. Sadly, the finishing bit is not so easy. We hit obstacles. We have arguments. It rains. We eat ALL the cakes. Our enthusiasm and determination start to dwindle, and our motivation quickly follows.
I see lots of articles and workshops on how to start writing a novel, but not so many about finishing one. Starting is exciting and exhilarating. It’s fun. ‘Look at me! I’m writing a novel!’ It’s the finishing bit that’s reeeeeeeeeeally hard. I should know. I’ve started eight novels and finished four (three of them now published) and, trust me, it doesn’t get any easier. The world is littered with abandoned novels, consigned to forgotten Word files and dusty notebooks. Relics of what might have been. So much promise and hope tossed aside in a moment of doubt or fear.
Some books, admittedly, are abandoned because the time wasn’t right for that particular story. In that case, there is always the chance that you might return to it in the future and rediscover the spark you need to finish it. Most abandoned books, however, will remain exactly that, and you, the writer, will never know what might have been, had you pushed through those gnarly moments of despair and written The End.
So what can you do about this? How do you keep going when the going gets tough? In short – how do you finish the damned thing?
- Embrace the Difficult Middle Bit – this is always where enthusiasm takes a nose dive as the scale of the book begins to feel overwhelming and the prospect of ever reaching The End looks increasingly unlikely. Accept this phase as exactly that. A phase. Remind yourself why you were wanted to write this book in the first place and keep going.
- Don’t let self-doubt de-rail you. Everyone thinks their work is rubbish somewhere around the Difficult Middle Bit. It is part of the cycle of writing. Push on through. It isn’t rubbish. It might actually be very good. It could just be brilliant.
- Don’t be fooled by the endless number of better ideas that start flirting with you when you’re struggling. This happens EVERY TIME! They are evil temptresses and must be stored away in a Future Projects book where – if they are meant for you – they will still be waiting when this beast is finished.
- Most writing is re-writing. Get the first draft down so you have at least told yourself the story and have something to work with. Then you can start re-writing, polishing, editing, structuring.
- If you’re stuck, print out what you have. Leave the desk/laptop and sit in a coffee shop with a red pen and a cup of tea. Read your work as a reader. Ask yourself what’s missing. What does the reader need to know next?
- Read your work out loud. This always helps.
- Use coloured PostIts to map out your chapters and plot. Stick them on the wall above your desk, or on the kids’ snooker table or your husband’s weights bench (am I over-sharing?) This can really help to visualise the structure of your book without forever scrolling through a document.
- Give your work to a couple of trusted critique partners (friends/fellow writers) and ask for their honest feedback. Ask someone to focus on character, ask someone else to focus on plot and take their comments on board. Often the thing we least want to hear is the thing we most need to hear in order to keep writing and reach The End.
- Set yourself a writing schedule. Know how many words you want to have down by a certain month/date. Be ruthless and stick to this.
- Turn off social media. Use apps like Freedom and switch your phone to Flight Mode. Twitter and Facebook can drain your writing time with frightening speed and efficiency. They are also dangerous places to hang out when you’re suffering from self-doubt because everyone else’s books sound so much better. Turn your back on it all for a while. Become invisible.
- Grit your teeth. Pushing on through to The End isn’t pretty or easy. Like running a marathon, the finishing line never seems to get any closer, but it is there. Keep going. Who cares if you look like a sweaty mess when you finish.
- Apologise to friends and family. Turn down invitations to coffee, lunch, dinner. Essentially, become a recluse. They will all still be there for you when you emerge, bleary-eyed and buzzing on Haribo and caffeine.
- Stop complaining and get on with it. Get up early. Go to bed late. Use your writing time wisely.
- Go to a writing retreat. Sometimes, escaping from life for a while is the only way to reach the end. Yes, it’s an indulgence. Yes, it’s a luxury you may not be able to afford (financially, practically or emotionally), but it will really help. Adopt a neighbour’s house while they’re on holiday. Use a hotel room. Hide in the highlands or the downstairs loo for a week. Find whatever ‘retreat’ works for your own circumstances, but don’t underestimate the value of time locked away with nothing to distract you from finishing the book.
- Letting go of a book is difficult. Reaching that moment when we stop tweaking and polishing and allow people to read our work is a huge milestone. Be brave. Be adventurous. Finish it, send it out there and see what happens. Shush your demons, arm yourself with all the self-belief you can muster, hold on tight to your passion, and who knows what might lie ahead.
- Reward yourself for finishing. Buy something. See your friends. Lie down for a day. Go for a run. Do whatever makes you feel fantastic and celebrate your achievement.
Of course, writing ‘The End’ is really only the beginning. That’s when the fun really starts.
Great is the art of beginning, but greater is the art of ending.
– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Hazel Gaynor is the international bestselling author of A MEMORY OF VIOLETS and THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME, for which she received the 2015 RNA Historical Novel of the Year award. She was selected by US Library Journal as one of ‘Ten Big Breakout Authors’ for 2015 and was a spring 2015 WHSmith ‘Fresh Talent’ pick.
Her work has been translated into several languages. Hazel is a contributing author to WWI anthology FALL OF POPPIES (March 2016) and her third novel, THE GIRL FROM THE SAVOY is just out. Hazel lives in Ireland with her husband and two children, and is represented by Michelle Brower of Zachary Shuster Harmsworth, New York.
Sites That Link to this Post
- How To Find “The End” | WordHarbour | June 8, 2016