How to Finish a Novel – Part Two

So, at some point in this novel-writing process, you’re going to end up with 200–300 pages of … something. You’re not quite sure what it is. It might be a draft of a novel. Then again, it might be the worst collection of half-baked ideas ever committed to print. You can’t really tell right now.

This is where the going gets tough, and where you definitely need to stick to steps three and four of the plan, or you might find yourself making a little novel bonfire in your backyard.

  • Step 3: Get a handle on the Terror.

My writing buddy and I coined a name for that horrible feeling of inadequacy, fear, and shame that struck us when we looked at our early drafts. We called it the Terror. I picture the Terror as being something like the Nothing in The Neverending Story

 
 

The Terror is real, and it swallows creativity whole.

I was fully in the grip of the Terror one afternoon when I happened to receive a pep talk from Neil Gaiman in my inbox (thanks, NaNoWriMo!). In the talk, he vividly described that feeling of inadequacy and defeat I knew so well, and admitted that he’d experienced it during the drafting of every single one of his books.

That’s when I started realizing that the Terror was not an experience reserved just for me (because I'm special) or for unpublished authors. Neil Gaiman gets the Terror, for God’s sake. And in later discussions with many successful artists, poets, and writers, I realized that they all get it too. 

So, listen up: The Terror is freaky, but it’s not unique to you. It doesn’t mean you are not really a writer and should give up now. It’s just an occasional, unpleasant part of the creative process.

The Terror is also not as powerful as it at first seems. Like the Nothing in The Neverending Story, it can be defeated by imagination. So, keep on writing. Keep on doing all those things that nurture your belief in yourself. After a while, the Terror will start to seem less like this: 

And more like this: 

  • Step Four: Get yourself a talented editor.

Once you've managed to look at your latest draft without falling into a pit of despair, you'll realize: "Hey, I need to share what I've written with another human being." You might also realize that you're very, very nervous about doing so. 

Since you only have a rough draft right now, a draft that only looks vaguely like a book, you’re in a very vulnerable psychological place. Choosing the right editor at this point is paramount.

I had the incredible good luck of having two editor friends (Ashleigh Pedersen of WriteWell Austin, and freelance editor extraordinaire Kelly Ramsey) on hand to give me incisive critiques and offer generous support and praise.

But what if you don’t have someone on speed-dial who you’d trust with your book?

I would highly recommend reaching out to a professional editor who can work with you one-on-one and give your draft the full and complete attention that it deserves. A professional editor can help you develop the plot of your book, fine-tune the characters, and hone the language to a razor-sharp edge.

What should you look for in an editor? Well, expertise, for one, which is why you should use an editor with a strong background in creative writing and publishing. Companies like WriteByNight, Yellow Bird Editors, and, of course, Fresh Ink Consulting specialize in editing services for creative writers by creative writers. When these editors make a recommendation, it's coming from a place of long experience.

An excellent book editor should also be able to embody two different but complementary personalities: the honest critic and the sincere cheerleader.

 
 

In order to whip your book into shape, you’re going to need to hear some unvarnished truths about your writing – what's currently not working, what needs to be fixed, and what needs to be thrown out. However, criticism by itself can make you feel like lying face-down on your bed and not getting up for a long time. That's why it’s so important that your book editor also be a sincere cheerleader for your work.

Good editors should be able to describe, at length, what’s really working about your book, what excites and delights them, and why they think this writing is worthwhile. You should get the sense that your editor is pretty damn fired up about your book and the prospect of its publication.

In short, a good editor should make you feel good – not because they're flattering you, but because with their feedback you can see exactly how to transform your humble first draft into something phenomenal.  

What strategies have helped you get from first to final draft? Do you have tips or resources for writers who are struggling to finish books? Share your comments below or on the Fresh Ink Facebook page!

Jaime deBlanc-Knowles is the founder of Fresh Ink Consulting, an Austin-based company offering personalized editing and writing services to authors and small businesses.