To begin with, I am obliged to emphasise this: Although I technically finished my novel last November, a novel is never truly finished. There are endless edits, do-overs, deletions, drafts and re-drafts that still need to be done. There are many more people that I will be bombarding for their advice and expertise before I can even think about sending this thing to an agent or publisher.
What I do have right now is a perfectly imperfect story, with a distinct beginning, middle and end. And I am overwhelmed that I have done this; if anything is bittersweet, it is coming to the end of a piece of work that’s been in your heart for nearly ten years. There are a thousand feelings to be had and more. I’m just going to share a couple today, with the hope of encouraging those who are just getting started with a personal project, who are stuck in the middle, or even those who are stumbling down the end stretch but just can’t see the finish line. You are not alone. Big goals take time, and they are worth every hour they take. If you’ve chosen a craft you love, every second of the journey will be worth it. It will also be entirely unique to you, which is something very rewarding. Today, I give you the whistle-stop tour of my own experience of finishing writing a book.
For me, how I’ve felt about finishing my novel has been all to do with when, not how or why. I’ll spare you the gory details, but I started my book (this draft anyway) in an extremely difficult time, when there wasn’t much else holding me to the earth. And I don’t think I would have got the words down if I hadn’t felt so lost.
I’ve had these characters in my head for nearly ten years and messed around with several false starts. My characters grew louder and more developed with each passing year until I couldn’t ignore them any longer. Finally, a crisis period drove me to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) for the real deal. Suddenly, this story began to pour out of me. I wrote anywhere, anytime; in bed, on the tube, on holiday, in cafes, in lunch breaks, in the middle of the night, in London, Liverpool, Rugby, Bath, Devon, Berlin, Morocco, Amsterdam…This novel has been everywhere with me, through a very significant period of personal growth. Consequently, nostalgia was the dominant emotion for me as I approached the end. I almost couldn’t bear it to end, but I knew I had to for my characters. I felt like something terribly important had slipped through my fingers. It was disconcerting and freeing and sad and addictive. I would do it again, and again and again, but I knew nothing would feel exactly like finishing this book at this time. Nothing would be quite so intense. I guess that’s how nostalgia works…
Behind nostalgia came dread and fear. This book was just full of me. Every page could be a map of my loves, losses, joys, grievances, fears, tears and life. I tried not to let it happen, but it just sort of did…The characters are entirely their own, but they all hold pieces and parts of me and my experiences. How truly terrifying to have 77,820 words of me spilled onto tangible pages that other people might read. I felt exposed and naked. I wanted to clamber into a hole and stay there.
But then, I needed editors. I needed to push through my embarrassment and show my work to people so that I could improve it. Luckily, people were very kind and encouraging and I got more confident. I still sometimes squirm when I think about my work being read, but I know it’s for the best and massively appreciate it when someone points out an amusing typo or a sentence that doesn’t sound quite right.
In regular life, accomplishments have never felt quite enough to me. As soon as one thing is done, I look to the next with a sigh of resignation. I got some GCSEs, so I needed A levels, so I had to get a degree, so I needed to get a job…and so on. My ambition has always been a fraction bigger than my drive, leading me to feel ever-so-slightly dissatisfied, all the time…I think this is probably the case with most graduates. It is a mark of being human and having finite resources, energy and opportunities. I have grown accustomed to feeling like this and am learning to separate my sense of self from my achievements, so that I do not lose my mind.
However, I was pleasantly surprised with how wholesome it felt to finish my book. I’ve done it. Full stop. I’ve written a whole book, all by myself. I’ve created something real and personal. I could write another one, if I feel like it. I could never write again (unlikely for me, as you’ll know if you’ve read my Why Write post). It doesn’t matter, because this achievement stands on its very own. I feel proud and fulfilled, perhaps for the first time ever.
Why you should Do The Thing
I have absolutely loved writing my book. Every day is inspiration, every lonely night is filled. Every unpleasant emotion is a precious human experience to be shared. Sure, it’s been a slog at times. 77,820 words is no mean feat, and sometimes I just felt like watching television or going out with my friends. Sometimes I did. Sometimes I let ideas slip away and tore my hair out trying to remember them later on. The amount of intensity that is required to write the kind of story I wrote is quite something. I am astounded by it when I look back.
There were so many times when I thought I would never finish the book. The path would become muddied and unclear. I would have to step back and let things incubate in my mind for a couple of weeks or months. Some days, I could only write a sentence, which I would go on to delete anyway.
The point is, I persevered. For two years, going on ten, I worked on my writing skills and my story. I wrote short stories and blogs and went to nerdy writer’s events. I stayed up all night to get an important chapter just right. I skipped going to the pub to stay in and rewrite the sections I screwed up. And it was totally, totally worth it.
So if you’ve had an idea for a while, but just haven’t had the time to run with it, then make time. Give it an hour. Get up early, stay up late. Turn off your phone. Go away, by yourself. It might turn into something. It might turn into nothing, but then develop five years later. Do the thing. You might end up with a story you’ll want to tell again and again.