The Secret to Finishing a Novel

During my signing at Barnes and Noble, I had a great discussion about books and writing with the fabulous Julia. Somewhere in our conversation, she asked what made the difference for me in going from essentially a hobbyist writer to writing something publishable.

My first thought was my commitment to writing every day, but that wasn’t quite enough. There was a point in my life where I was writing all the time and never getting any closer to that finished manuscript.

The real difference came when I realized that I had been working for a year on the same project and hadn’t gotten past chapter ten. I had written and rewritten those ten chapters a billion and a half times, but the end of the story looked hopelessly out of reach.

What I had to do at that point was one of the most painful things I’ve done in my writing experience:

I banned myself from editing until I had a complete story in front of me.

It was hard, and I slipped more than once. I had to ban myself from even so much as rereading what I had written, and there were times when I literally had to close my eyes and keep working to stop myself from going back and fixing that horribly lame scene I had just written.

But once I hit the end, there were fireworks. I had a full story written out from beginning to end! It was full of holes, it was cliche, it was jumpy and rocky, but it was all laid out in front of me. With a complete, albeit terrible draft laid out before me, I could mold my story as a whole. Before, I was rewriting blindly, with no broader view of the story than the bits at the beginning.

I still struggle with holding off on the editing until I have a complete draft, but I’ve proven to myself again and again that it’s the only way for me to write anything worth reading.

Do you edit as you go or wait until the end of a draft? What kinds of changes have you made to improve your writing quality and efficiency?


  1. I read somewhere a few years back to stop editing as you went along. Unless say you changed a name or some really crucial plot thing. So, I don’t edit as much as I used to, unless I really have no desire to write and editing is fun. But one of my WIP’s I have not edited at all. I just type when I can and try not to go back unless I forgot where I was. I write a lot of it in my notebook and forget to type it up, but between my notebook and laptop, I have a pretty decent start to as still somewhat plot lacking book. I hope.
    I think giving up the editing is the best thing though. Also the hardest thing to give up at first. But I think your post is spot on. And something we all need to remember.

  2. I agree that it’s hard to avoid editing as you go. I mostly do line-edits while I work. I rarely, if ever, change whole scenes or re-work a chapter. It does happen occasionally, however.

    I do re-read fairly often, but I don’t necessarily edit while I do that. Oftentimes, it’s just an exercise to get me immersed back in the world I left a few days ago. Or weeks, depending on how long it’s been sitting.

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