I finished writing a novel last Friday. The first draft is now complete at just under 144,000 words. That word count will decrease in editing, but for now that’s what it is. This is the same manuscript I blogged about for my NaNoWriMo challenge–little did I know I’d be adding almost another 60,000 words to it by the time I finished!
But now I’m done … yay?
That question mark is why I decided to write this post.
The advice below is culled from personal experience and advice that’s worked for me. Rather than how to get yourself to finish that novel–there are plenty of articles out there on that–this article is about what do when you’ve finished a draft and find yourself at loose ends.
What To Do Once You Finish Your Novel
1. Celebrate. Reward yourself with something fun. You did it! Then…
2. Take a break from writing. For a set length of time–I like a week or so–don’t write or edit anything at all. Don’t even look at your newly finished manuscript. Take some time to pursue non-writing-related projects or hobbies: draw or paint, garden, play video games, whatever. (For instance, I’ll be taking time to finish Portal 2 and then laugh at how behind on games I am.)
3. Focus on self care. Especially in the home stretch of a big writing project, we can become, let’s say, hyper-focused on the work and neglect our routines like cooking and cleaning (or delegate them to a supportive partner or roommate). Refocusing on the day-to-day requirements of living will not only make you more popular around the house, but I find it a good way to decompress after a long sojourn in my imagination. Then, after your break week is over…
4. Work on something else. Write that short story idea rattling around in your head, or edit that novella you haven’t gotten around to polishing. The liminal space between novel drafts is fertile ground for experimenting and exploring new ideas. Using this time to work on new material does two important things: first, it helps refresh your well of creativity, which can often seem like it’s running dry after you’ve spent months plumbing it for novel material. Second, it helps you resist the temptation to dive back into your first draft right away to begin revising. Which brings us to my last point…
5. Let your novel sit before revising. It’s crucial to let time lend you some objective distance from your novel before you self-edit. In his book On Writing, Stephen King recommends letting the manuscript lie fallow, so to speak, for at least 6 weeks, longer if you can stand it. Like wines, as novels age they steep; they start to feel like someone else’s work, and this is good. It’s a lot easier to read someone else’s work with a critical eye, to spot the continuity errors and places where a character’s motivation is thin, to note where there are setups without payoffs, and all the other important work of developing the piece. When we first set that manuscript down, our emotions are running too high to do this effectively; it still feels like our baby, rather than someone else’s.
Some Final Thoughts
A lot has been written about the creative process of drafting a novel, but less often discussed are the emotions that go into writing it. For all you might focus on craft, it’s important to remember that you’ve also put your heart and soul into writing your novel. If you’re like me, some of your most moving and exhilarating experiences have come while writing. It’s only natural to feel a certain amount of letdown once that first draft is finished. Putting some distance between the writing and revising can help, as can remembering that the first draft of a novel is just that–first. It’s the beginning of the story that is your novel, not the end.
Writers, I want to hear from you: what do you do once you’ve finished a first draft? What do you find helpful in mentally preparing for the next step?