If you’ve not completed your first draft yet, that’s perfectly normal, especially if this is your first attempt. Whether it takes you thirteen weeks or slightly longer, the point of this process is to get you through your first draft quickly.
“But, Mike! I’m only approaching the end of Act Two! I’ve failed!”
No. If this is your first time, chances are, you’ve just written more than you’ve ever previously written in your whole life. Take a deep breath and acknowledge that success. Remember, you gave yourself permission to write poorly, right? You also have permission not to be finished bang on time. It’s a novel, not a grocery list.
Ok, so you’ve forgiven yourself and treated yourself kindly, but you still want to finish this thing. So how do you get to the end quickly? The same way you got this far:
- Assess how much of the work still needs to be done.
- Decide roughly how many pages still need to be written.
- Calculate the number of days needed to complete this, based on what you know you’ve been able to accomplish each day up until now.
- Mark this new goal on your calendar.
Is it three days, or thirty days? It really doesn’t matter. The number of days is less important than the act of setting a goal. But more important than setting that goal? Working toward it. Your novel isn’t going to finish itself.
Here are some last thoughts for getting you to the end:
- Do not go back and read what you’ve written until you complete the first draft.
- Give yourself permission to write poorly.
- Don’t rewrite your prose. You’re simply getting the story down on paper at this point.
- Don’t concern yourself with filling in every narrative hole. There may be areas that feel very vague. There may be areas that don’t make sense. You’re allowed to hate what you’re writing and still get to the end. Revelations sometimes come only after you write through the stuff that doesn’t work.
- Write down a list of all the things you’re going to do to treat yourself when you complete your first draft. And when you finish, keep your promise to yourself. You’ve asked something big from your subconscious, and it’s come through for you. Celebrate!
The Last Hurrah
You’ve done it. There it is. Sitting on the table in a pristine pile of pages. A first draft. It’s finished. After all this time, it’s really, finally finished.
Go ahead: Break out a bottle of champagne, turn a cartwheel, and imagine—word for word—your review in the New York Times. Indulge yourself, you’ve earned it. I’ll wait.
Yay! Good. All done? Brilliant. Now that you’ve come back down to earth, I have a secret to share with you:
The first draft of anything is shit. — Ernest Hemingway
It’s in the nature of endings that they turn into new beginnings. And this is never truer than it is at the end of your first draft, because there’s a reason why it’s the “first” draft: There’s more to come. Second, third, and maybe more drafts.
Yep. Sorry, Charlie. Don’t get me wrong, I understand how you feel. After weeks and months—maybe years—of working on a novel, we just want to be done with it already. I don’t like to rewrite any better than the next guy. Or at least, I didn’t.
Then I realized something: Revision is the single most important thing you can do for your own work. In almost all cases, you’ll end up with a much stronger story—and much better chances of selling it, whether to agents, publishers, or directly to readers.
But how do you go about a revision? Wouldn’t you have written it better the first time if you knew a better way? No, probably not. Remember, the first draft is basically just brain-vomit, spitting words and images and characters and settings and description and dialogue out onto the page as fast as it comes to you. And while you were doing that, you learned a lot about your characters, plot, and setting that you didn’t know when you started.
Now is the time to use that new knowledge to sharpen some aspects of your story, delete others, and add background and secondary variations. Revision takes the melody of your first draft and creates a harmony.
But we’re not going to get into the nuts and bolts of revision today. Today, you finished your #13WeekNovel. You’ve worked hard and faithfully, and your novel is finished. Congratulations and well done: you’ve fulfilled two promises. The first one is in the story itself, the implicit promise you made to your reader: “I have a story to tell you, and I’m going to guide you through it to a satisfactory and cathartic ending.”
But the second promise is probably the more important of the two. It was the promise you made to yourself when you started: “I’m going to write a whole novel, and I’m going to give it all I’ve got.” Bang. You’ve done it. That is an achievement to be admired. It takes discipline, creativity, commitment, and passion. You deserve to be proud of yourself.
So Now What?
Now you mail that story out/self-publish it and begin another one.
The best thing you can do for yourself, when your story is truly finished, is to forget about it. Continue to market it, but transfer your creative attention and energy to the next story. Let that one become the center of your speculation, effort, and hopes—not the one in the mail or the bookstore. Maybe that first one will sell, maybe not. Either way, you’re still growing as a writer, and the best way to do that is to concentrate on what you’re writing now, today, at this moment.
So saddle up, partner. There’s a new horizon ahead. Ride for it.
Thanks for taking part in the #13WeekNovel Writing Challenge. I hope you got as much out of it as I did.
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