You Started Writing A Novel. How Do You Finish It?

Angela Booth
Nov 29 · 3 min read

It’s that time of the year again. November: the month of NaNoWriMo, when hundreds of thousands of authors spend the month writing a novel.

Unfortunately, many of those novels will never be completed, because writing a novel is exhausting.

If you’ve written 50,000 words in November chances are good that you never want to see any of those words again. You couldn’t care less about “finishing” the novel. You’re done with it.

Don’t be so hasty! If you’re a new author, chat with authors who’ve written several books. The first draft of any novel is rough.With a little effort and a strategy you can finish your novel.

What if your novel is truly horrible?

Earnest Hemingway may or may not have said: the first draft of anything is… (rubbish). Nevertheless, it’s accurate.

If you think your first draft is bad, look at these Crappy First Drafts of Great Books.

For example, here’s the first page of Dickens’ Great Expectations.

Consider this: writing, to coin a cliche, isn’t typing. It’s thinking, on the page or computer screen. Look on your first chaotic draft as your initial thoughts about your novel.

I started my writing career as a novelist. I’ve also ghosted dozens of novels for clients. In my experience, the worse a first draft looks, the more likely it is that there’s an excellent novel hiding in the mess.

Here’s why. The chaos shows that you’re thinking — you’re captured by the story, and that passion will be felt by your readers.

A smooth first draft can be wonderful; your imagination handed you the complete story, all you had to do was write it down.

I’ve never had that happen, nor have any of the authors I know, but it could happen. Maybe.

It’s far more likely that your first draft is (predictably) horrid. Let’s assume that you think it’s beyond help, and do what professional writers do — we deal with it.

Here’s a simple strategy to finish your novel:

  • Read what you have;
  • Ask yourself some questions;
  • Write the final scene.

Read what you have, then ask some questions

Schedule half an hour every day to complete your novel, because avoidance and procrastination will kill it. Each day you procrastinate makes it LESS likely that you’ll finish.

Here’s why. When you write a novel, you’re telling yourself a story in a dreamlike state. Just as with nighttime dreams, these novel-writing daydreams fade quickly.

If you let one day pass without looking at your novel, it takes time for you to recapture your inspiration. Let three or more days pass and you’ll never recapture your initial inspiration.

Questions to ask:

  • Who’s the main character? Why?
  • What’s at stake for him? Is it a life or death situation?
  • If not, can I make the situation worse?
  • How do I make it worse? (Always aim to make things worse for your main character.)

2. Write the final scene next

Your novel’s final scene is your destination. I like to write the final scene of a novel as soon as I can — before I’ve written more than the first three scenes.

Why? Because until you write the final scene, you may not be completely certain who your main character is, or whose story you want to tell.

You needn’t polish that initial final scene, but you want to know:

  • Who’s in the scene;
  • Where the scene takes place; and
  • How the main character feels about it.

Use your imagination. Daydream the scene, and write it.

Important: don’t judge. Whether your final scene is 2,000 words or 100 words doesn’t matter. Nor do the words matter. What matters is that you’ve created a destination and made it much easier to finish your novel.

Writing the final scene makes it more likely that you’ll finish the novel

This strategy works for me and for my students. It will work for you too.

Try it.


Veteran author, copywriter, and blogger Angela Booth loves helping fellow writers. Visit Angela’s site for tips and strategies for writers.

Angela Booth

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Author, copywriter, marketer, keen blogger, and writing teacher. Newly relaunched: https://angelabooth.com/

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