The End: Tips to Get Your Manuscript Over the Finish Line
They’re two such little words, but every writer gives a huge sigh of relief to write them: The End.
I seem to be in the minority among the authors I know. Most writers talk of their enjoyment of crafting a story, and their dislike of the editing process. I’m the other way round. I find writing a first draft stressful, often wondering how, or even if I’ll make it to the end. Along the way I’ll certainly feel moments of pleasure at working out a plot point, coming up with the perfect character name, or finishing a chapter at a crucial moment that I know will hook the reader – I guess I wouldn’t do it otherwise. But on the whole I don’t tend to relax until the story is all down, even if it’s imperfect. Once it’s complete, there’s something to work with and improve, and then I start to enjoy it more.
Many of the emails and messages I receive are from aspiring writers of all ages, some of whom are attempting their first novel. Quite often the same questions arise, one in particular: How do I keep going to the end?
Whether it’s planning, or a lack of inspiration, or too many ideas jostling for space, The End is a trickster that tries to elude us all, but it can be caught. And when you’ve done it once, you know you can do it again. Here’s how . . .
How do I stay inspired enough to write an entire novel? Here’s the thing: you don’t. Inspiration is where the story begins. It’s an idea, or several ideas coming together to form the basis of the tale. This is the exciting phase, where the story is all shiny and new and you can’t wait to get started. Only, when you’re a few pages or chapters in, it starts to get hard and it’s not quite what you imagined. Wait, what? You don’t feel inspired now? Welcome to being a writer! It’s all too easy to give up when the shine wears off and you’re feeling the allure of pretty new ideas. Maybe you’ll go and write one of those instead? You get the picture. Inspiration only gets you so far. It’s sheer hard work that does the rest.
2.) But how . . .?
As best-selling author Neil Gaiman famously put it, ‘This is how you do it. You sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until it’s done. It’s that easy, and that hard.’ Hard? Yes. Anyone who thinks it’s easy is either incredibly lucky, or not a very good writer. I’m a slow writer. Words rarely come easily. If I can write 1000 words a day (that’s about three and a half pages, double-spaced) I’m happy. Sometimes I’ll have a rush where the words just flow, usually when I’m far enough into a chapter or scene, but I still find a blank page daunting.
3. Become obsessed.
When I was an art student, my very talented, very wise teacher told me, ‘To be a success, you must become obsessed with your work.’ At the time I remember feeling disappointed to hear that. I was into art, and good at it, but it didn’t rule my every waking thought. I was having too much fun living up the student life. It was only after I left college and began working on Thirteen Treasures that I understood what he’d meant. With fewer distractions, no money (ie. no student loan) and an idea I was passionate about, I did become obsessed. I mooched in book shops every chance I got, looking at what was being published and how I could make my story different; I read up extensively on fairies, and I read every ‘getting published’ story I could find to keep my dream in my head. Most importantly, I wrote in every spare moment.
4. The more you do, the more you want to do.
This goes for a lot of things in life, not just writing. The more you put into a story, the more ideas, the more research, and the more pages you build up, the higher your investment in that story will be and the easier it’ll become to see it through to the end. You won’t want to waste all that work. Like tree roots reaching further below the soil, the more you put in, the more firmly the story will take hold and flourish. Beware though, the same can be said of the opposite. The less you do, the less you’ll want to do. Laziness breeds laziness. If you leave a story untouched for a while or work irregularly, it will suffer. Try to do a bit as often as you can, or at least read through it or do some relevant research to keep it fresh in your mind.
5. Plan ahead . . .
. . . but not too much. Some writers are able to start a story with just a vague idea of what might happen, and let things develop from there. Many writers choose to plan, so they don’t get lost. I’m a planner, although I don’t do it too rigidly. I like to leave room to be flexible as often, better concepts come along. It helps to have an idea of a few key scenes or moments you’re itching to write; a major plot twist, clue or big reveal. If you can stay excited about these moments it’ll help keep you on track, and ultimately push you further towards the finish line.
6. Get it written, then get it right.
When I first started writing back in my teens, many of my stories never got finished because I was too hung up on trying to get everything perfect as I went along. This is a common problem, and one you must overcome if you’re going to finish your stories (and especially if you intend to make a career out of writing. Published writers with deadlines don’t have this luxury, so it’s a good habit to develop). There’s no such thing as a perfect first draft (or even second, third or fourth). Most writers agree that you can never get the perfection you strive for, even when the book has gone to print and is for sale (although maybe forget I said that, I don’t want to depress you)! Try to remember that you’ll always be your own worst critic and resist the urge to keep going over and over sentences. Tell the story. You can fiddle with it when it’s finished.
7. Set targets and make time.
Whether it’s a daily or weekly word count or page count, or writing one scene a day it helps if you can aim to get a certain amount done regularly. Some would-be writers complain that they don’t have time to write. The key is to make time. I recently saw an excellent blog post by Natasha Lester on Twitter in which she writes: ‘…making time to write inevitably involves giving something up, and nobody likes giving things up—you have to be strong and steadfast. It might be TV, or coffee with friends, or an hour’s sleep, or half an hour surfing the internet.’ Hear, hear.
So what are you waiting for? If you believe you can do it, you can.
Make it happen.