The Dratted Finished Line

Dear Miss Snark,

You said that every writer has at least one novel written and hidden away. I believe you called it a learning experience. Supposing the writer realized what an oozing manure boil the script was before it was finished. Must the writer complete it to be considered a valid learning experience, by your definition?

There's a lot to be said for the discipline of finishing a novel. The pages between 80% done and 100% done are often the hardest to finish. That's one reason if someone queries me on a novel it has to be finished before I'll read so much as a sentence (this varies by agent and author but for me, with a first time novelist..no exceptions).

On the other hand if you've written yourself into a hole and there is no ladder in sight, well, you've learned something that can certainly be put to use in novel two.

No hard and fast rule here other than really try to finish if only so you know you can.


Anonymous said...

That last 20% is really a killer. It's when you realize it's all drivel and nobody would ever buy such a piece of crap.

Do what I do! Set out to write a novel-- or even a trilogy! from scratch, all the way through revision, all as a learning exercise. (Later, if it's worth selling, that's dandy.)

Every so often I feel sorry for myself, putting my 'most favorite ideas' on hold while I work out this 'develop and FINISH a novel' thing. But, I figure, my friends who are going back to school have years of work ahead of them. Spending some time practicing before I go on stage seems like a fair equivalent.

And this time at the last 20%, when I realize it's drivel, I tell myself right back that I can write a better story next time, (in my 'sophomore year'!) but not until I finish this time.

Anonymous said...

The first novel I attempted was a single title romance novel which was supposed to be 90-100K. I tortured myself for three years and realised a) while I love reading romance novels I'm not a romance writer, and b) I didn't have enough story to get to 90K. At 80,000 words I slapped on an ending and retired it.

Ultimately I was happy that the first novel I attempted (and stuffed up) was a genre novel as it provided the best learning lessons. I'm now working on a young adult novel that has so much story I'm going to be possibly writing over the 100K mark and then cutting it back.

If you've learnt all you can try and tie it up in an ending so you feel that psychological ending. If you can't just retire it and move on. And apply all the lessons you learnt to your new WIP.

Meg said...

I finished my first novel this month. It's nice to hear that the last 20% is the toughest because those were my toughest writing days. Confirms maybe I'm on the right track! I think I learned most from finishing. Now if I can stay in other projects and away from the novel for two months before going to draft two, I'll be happy.

David Isaak said...

Finish. The line between "wrote a novel" and "almost wrote a novel" is a huge gulf, and one you need to cross.

Don't be a quitter. Plus, don't you want to se how it ends?

Lady M said...

I don't have a problem finishing, starting or the middle. I have a problem sharing. LMAO!

Giving it to someone else to read it.

But I will admit the last closure is probably the most difficult. Because you either want to rush through it - you screw it up - or you leave everyone wanting more.

Anonymous said...

Heres to hoping that some first novels are worthy of getting published.......click your heels three times.

December Quinn said...

Oh, I'm so glad you posted this! Because I'm literally in the last chapter of my third novel and the darn thing just Will. Not. End.!! It's been like pulling teeth.

And this is an ending that's (of course) been in my head since the day I started the book.

But yes...there's a world of difference between "starting a novel" "almost finishing a novel" and actually "finishing a novel." When it's done, you wrote a book. Before it's done, you might as well be keeping a journal.

BuffySquirrel said...

My first novel was 500k and lives on the hard disk that died. Or possibly doesn't live on it. Length has always been a problem...

archer said...

I read an interview with John Grisham once in which he said that it was finishing the first book that made all the difference. He said he'd kept the MS and copies stacked in his office where he could see them, and that he enjoyed saying to people "You see that? It's my novel, and I finished it."

bonniers said...

The last 20% is always the hardest. No matter how many novels you've finished, at that point you will almost certainly think the story is shallow, the writing is drivel, and you've wasted your time and everybody else's. It's a perfectly normal feeling and most of the time it has no relation whatsoever to the actual quality of the novel.

Just finish it. Give it some rest. Go back to it later and you'll get a much clearer idea of whether it really is as bad as you think, and whether it can be fixed.

Anonymous said...

Cynthia writes:

I agree: finish. The second book is ALWAYS easier than the first ... it took me three years of fitful starts and quits to finish my first (never to be submitted even at point of death) novel. The second one? Finished the rough draft in 23 days, I kid you not. And it was LONGER than the first one.

That first time you stick it through the end of a book that Will. Not. End. tells you that you have the discipline to be a writer. It also teaches you what you DON'T know so that you can go figure it out.

When someone who's starting out in writing asks me to critique her work, the first thing I ask is, "Is it finished? Are you going to finish it?"

If they say, "Well, it's almost finished ..." I reply, "I'll be glad to look at it when you're finished." That's my most valuable lesson and teaching tool.

Finish. The. Damned. Book. I've never yet pulled a book off the shelves where the first half is perfect and the last half is simply blank pages.

Which reminds me that I have revisions to get back to, because the second Most Valuable Lesson of Writers 101 is, "Writing is re-writing." Off to the salt mines!

Bernita said...

The thing about finishing a novel is that it proves to you that you can.

Poohba said...

I didn't get to the "it's drivel" phase until somewhere around the third draft.

I finished my first in two months. It was a wonderful experience.

And now it's three years later and I'm wondering if "IT" will every really be "done."

aries75 said...

I've heard it said that it's better to have something "bad and finished" than "good and started."

Termagant 2 said...

It wasn't until I finally wrote THE END on a piece that I really felt like a writer. Of course, this book is comparable in quality to Rat Droppings and will never, EVER see daylight even for my nearest & dearest.

However...it's wonderful for the ego to say to self, "Self, you finished a book. It's dreck, but you did it." Of those wo start a book, something like 90% never write THE END, whether uncut gem or rat doot.


Mark said...

My question is this: 20 percent of what number of words? I just hit 48K and I fugure that's about 2/3 of what I would like for the story.

Sarah said...

Oh, I'm so glad it's not just me. I'm on that last 20% and I truly alternate daily between "I have no plot" and "Actually I think this is pretty good" and "Drivel! Utter drivel!"

Anonymous said...

Sometimes, by the time you get close to The End, you're too close to the book to be impartial. Finish it, give it a bit of time, then judge.

Some first novels actually sell. I know this because Berkley bought mine. =)

Linda Adams said...

True, the final parts of the book are challenging. I'm struggling through that now (the book is completed; it's the revision).

However, I've also tossed an unfinished book. I'd worked on it for years and years, trying to make it work, but I had some problems developing the plot (I was writing it like a long short story). One of the things I finally realized was that if I wanted to ever finish a book, I had to at least set that one aside. I tossed it because it simply had too much baggage for me to ever do the story effectively, and I later realized that I was no longer the person who started that story. The only thing I regret is not tossing it a whole lot sooner.