In which I offer musings on what it means to “finish” writing a book

My first ever attempt at writing a novel is nearing completion. And let me be clear, by “completion” I don’t actually mean “completion” in the sense that any sane and normal person would understand it.

The non-writers amongst you will probably be open to two potential definitions of when a book is complete. It could be when the writer has typed their way all the way from “Once upon a time…” to “happily ever after” and stepped away from the keyboard. It could also be when the book gets handed over to a publisher and winds up in actual bookshops. Well, I’m not at either of those stages. The first passed some months (years?) ago, and the second may never happen at all.

So what have I been messing about at for the last two years, since I completed my first draft of this novel? Well, various things. There have been periods of having to leave the house and earn some actual money. Although he is astonishingly supportive of my whole penniless writer thing, much beloved husband does also remain fond of more mundane stuff, like eating and paying the mortgage.

There have also been periods of watching my life inexorably ebb away through the medium of my twitter and facebook news feeds. There has been a brain-mushing amount of watching old episodes of Project Runway and America’s Next Top Model on youtube, and falling ever so slightly in love with both Heidi and Tyra. Turns out my ideal woman is a German version of Tyra Banks. Who knew?

There have been periods of sitting staring at my novel-in-progress on the screen and rocking gently before flicking back over to youtube where it’s safe. But mainly there has been editing and rewriting and editing again, because starting at “Once upon a time..” and typing through to “happily ever after” doesn’t get you a book. It gets you a draft, and within that draft there will be plot holes that you could drive a truck through. I mean, YOU could drive a truck through them. I couldn’t obviously. I have driving-terror. The draft will also include characters who change their personality for no reason partway through, and, in my case, one character who changed their name for no reason partway through. That first draft was like a route map for the whole – it was only after I’d written it, that I could really start navigating through the novel.

There have been periods of very bravely allowing other people to read bits of my work for feedback, occasionally leading to periods of weeping and periods of defensiveness (usually followed by a much longer period of acceptance). Feedback on work in progress is interesting. The main thing I’ve learnt is that it’s wise to be careful who you ask. The best writers aren’t always the best critiquers. Twitter and facebook are brilliant for chatting to other writers, but the best feedback can come from intelligent readers outside of the little “writer bubble” we sometimes occupy. (Although I have had top feedback from some v talented writers – Huzzah for Holly Magill,  Lisa Bodenham-Mason and the RNA New Writers Scheme.)

I am now very nearly done with the editing and rewriting. I’ve (I think) beaten my insubordinate opening chapter into submission. There’s one more chapter to rewrite and then a few bits and bobs of line edits and then, and then… Well, and then, it’s time to send baby out into the world. I’ve made my list of potential agents, and prioritised within that list. I’ve identified publishers who accept unagented submissions. It’s pretty much all over bar the posting.

And after that, I start back at “Once upon a time…” and do it all over again, with a whole new set of problems and anxieties trying to get in the way. I “finished” one novel, but was it a fluke? Can I do it again? The rejections for novel no. 1 will be flowing by then too, trying to distract me with their depressing hints at my inate lack of ability. And that’s not even the worst thing – the worst thing is that I’ve now watched ALL the episodes of Top Model on youtube, even Canada’s Next Top Model. Can I write at all without a Top Model based word count incentive? I’ll let you know…

Author: Alison May

Writer. Creative writing teacher. Freelance trainer in the voluntary sector. Anything to avoid getting a real job... Aiming to have one of the most eclectic blogs around, because being interested in just one thing suggests a serious breakdown in curiousity.

6 thoughts on “In which I offer musings on what it means to “finish” writing a book”

  1. Well, if I can ever be of any help as an ‘intelligent’ reader then let me know. In the meantime I can help by telling you that the last episode of Swedens Next Top Model (Top Model Sverige) aired yesterday evening… so there’s a whole season sitting there unwatched on YouTube…..


  2. I’m intelligent and can read (without moving my lips too) – can I read the book helpfully sometime? Well done for getting it to a sending off stage, that is a big achievement and what happens to it next is kinda out of your hands. Writing a novel is one of those things I just wouldn’t know where to start with like re-wiring a house so very well done! If you’ve run out of internet distractions I could send you the links to the Italian bus timetables – you can muse on them for many happy hours!


    1. You can read at some point, definitely. You were a v helpful synopsis reader. Does novel writing qualify me to rewire house too? I totally feel that’s something I could have a go at…


  3. Good luck, Alison – I’m relying on a different selection of viewing to see me through, but the anxieties sound very familiar! I really hope everything goes well and that I can snap up a copy of your novel before long!


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