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Mar 9, 2021

Finishing Your Novel: It’s Not Over Until It’s Over

By: Lily Sayre

Reaching the end of your novel can feel impossible. Perhaps your inspiration has run out, your plot is wearing thin, and you’re lost in the messy middle of your manuscript. Or maybe you’ve sat down as I often have, with a brilliant idea that fizzles out the moment you try to put it on a blank page.

All authors can agree that regardless of where you are in the writing process or what your goal for your manuscript may be, finishing your novel is essential. Although it may seem like your story “just isn’t working,” the odds are that you can make it to your ending by applying these four techniques I’ve used to finish more than eight manuscripts in seven years:

Technique #1: Keep Writing

When someone tells you to “keep writing,” your reaction is probably something along the lines of “It’s not that easy!” Maybe, like me, you threw a pencil at that person in frustration. But it really is that easy. Even if it seems hopeless, writing at least 100 words a day is a guaranteed way to make it to the end of your book–or at least keep making progress. If you’re rewriting the same scene over and over or feel like no direction you go in is working, at least you’re learning what not to do next.

If you keep writing, I guarantee you’ll eventually succeed. Additionally, the more you write each day, the more you’ll write in the future because you’re establishing good habits. If you’ve ever participated in National Novel Writing Month, you’ve likely noticed this phenomenon. The first week of November, it feels impossible to write a thousand words in one day. But by the end of the month, three thousand words per day has become a breeze. Set yourself up for better future habits and keep your novel moving by writing every day.

Technique #2: Change the Unchangeable

A common reason why authors get stuck is because they’ve accepted an aspect of their protagonist, plot, or world as unchangeable, when in fact, it’s the very thing that needs to change.

For example, one of my critique partners was writing a story about a fantasy kingdom with seven warring islands. However, she couldn’t seem to write her first chapters. She struggled to introduce the different cultures of all seven islands and explain their role in the conflict without bogging down her manuscript’s opening pages. Ultimately, the problem wasn’t that she was an incompetent writer; her book simply had too many island kingdoms. She’d already decided there would be seven but couldn’t finish her manuscript until she removed four of them.

Your manuscript is your story to tell. Remember that you can change any part of it you need to. Often, your novel is giving you trouble not because you’re a bad writer but simply because you need to change the unchangeable.

Technique #3: Use Your Ending To Get To Your Ending

Many authors find themselves struggling in the “muddy middle” of their manuscript. They’ve finished introducing their characters, world, and plot, and aren’t sure what comes next. One easy way of avoiding this situation is to figure out your ending as soon as possible. When you get stuck, ask yourself how you can get closer to that ending. Even if you change it later, it helps to have a clear goal to work toward.

Many famous authors have sworn by this technique – including John Irving, Edgar Allen Poe, and Margaret Mitchell. Whether you actually write out your final scene or simply come up with a general idea, knowing where you’re headed always helps you get there.

Technique #4: It’s Not Over Until It’s Over

Ultimately, the most common reason why authors don’t reach the end of their manuscript is their perfectionism. When we pick up a book off the shelf in a store, what we’re seeing is the result of many rounds of revisions, professional developmental editing, and Chicago Manual of Style copyediting. Many beginner authors assume that their first draft needs to resemble the works on bookstore shelves, when nothing could be further from the truth.

It doesn’t need to be perfect. It doesn’t even need to make sense. Finish your draft and fix it later. If you let critique partners read your work before you’re finished, don’t apply their feedback until you’ve reached your ending.

You can write a sentence that doesn’t flow well. You can even introduce a character you decide later that you don’t want. These are problems to sort out once you’re finished. Get to the ending first, then fix what isn’t working later.


About the author

Lily Sayre is the indie-published author of two middle grade books. She lives in the great state of Texas with her family and two kittens. She’s excited to earn her BA in Creative Writing.