4 Things to Avoid When Finishing Your Novel

When you’re halfway through a draft or a major revision, it’s easy to recognize and delight in your novel’s strengths. It’s easy to imagine that you will—someday soon, tomorrow probably—correct every single flaw. But as you near the end of a draft, and your book remains imperfect, you might start to panic. You might make some bad choices. Here are four things to avoid.

GIVEAWAY: Emily is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Please note that comments may take a little while to appear; this is normal).

Emily-adrian-author-writer Like-it-never-happened-book-cover

Column by Emily Adrian, author of debut novel LIKE IT NEVER HAPPENED
(June 2015, Dial/Penguin). Her novel was given a stared review and called
“Original and intriguing; a powerful debut.” by Kirkus Reviews.  Emily Adrian
was born in 1989 in the suburbs of Portland, Oregon. After graduating from
Portland State University, she moved to Toronto, Ontario, where she worked
as a receptionist while secretly writing books. Emily currently lives in Toronto
with her husband, Dan, and their dog, Hank. Connect with her on Twitter

1. Don’t call it quits prematurely.

I have a habit of growing frustrated with my manuscript and deciding, abruptly, that the book is as good as it’s ever going to get. I’ve come all too close to turning in a typo-ridden document with my own furious comments—“WHAT IS THIS PARAGRAPH EVEN?”—hovering in the margins. Don’t do that. Chill. Ask yourself how much time you have to finish your book. Make a list of problems you can reasonably fix within that timeframe. Take a break.

2. Don’t Google yourself.

While taking your break, you may feel compelled to Google yourself. Particularly if your debut novel came out last month, or you just released some other sort of publication. Because maybe a kind librarian from Houston has been blogging about how brilliant you are, and maybe her praise is the fuel you require to finish your work.

Don’t. Best case scenario: someone in Houston thinks you’re a genius and you decide to Google yourself again in twenty minutes. Worst case scenario: you have three new one-star reviews on Goodreads.

(Have questions about what genre/category you’re writing in? Here are some tips.)

Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 3.39.23 PM

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3. Don’t delete spasmodically.

When looking over your novel for the last time, try to avoid haphazardly deleting words and sentences that suddenly seem clunky and bad. Maybe they are clunky and bad, in which case, your editor will let you know. More likely, those details that only start to feel gratuitous as you near your project’s end are, in fact, totally necessary. When I’m finishing a draft, I find myself skimming lines that I know are powerful and focusing instead on the understated bits in between—which, out of context, are as jarring as potholes. But what’s really jarring is when an author has deleted all the small actions and observations that carry the reader from one crucial point to the next.

4. Don’t download your manuscript.

After submitting your book to your agent or editor, do not obsessively download your own attachment, fearing you accidentally changed the font to Wingdings and/or submitted an old college term paper in place of your novel. You didn’t. I promise.

———————

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18 thoughts on “4 Things to Avoid When Finishing Your Novel

  1. BillAicher

    Thanks for the advice. Just about done with my first round of edits, and then about to go back and make my second round of improvements (first round I mostly fix weird wording, grammar, repeated words, etc). Second round I improve the actual writing. Then I’ll go through it again looking for grammar, spelling, typos etc. once more – then off to get some reader feedback.

  2. siberianheat

    I’m working on my first book. I’ve found that #3 is the most troubling for me. It is really difficult to read the whole thing end-to-end as a normal reader would do. So each editing change made, especially somewhat major structural changes, needs to be viewed through the lens of the entire book. You read a sentence early in the book and see something obscure like mention of a lunchbox in a ditch and you think it is so dumb…but then at the end of the book someone mentions the stupid thing! Hard to keep all the details straight. I do keep a spreadsheet outline though, which helps.

    Googling does bring up another point. I am using a pen name, and I chose one that doesn’t exist in any search. If you are unfortunate enough to have a name which is common, or you have done some shall we call them “unprofessional” activities online in the past, it could associate your books with those activities. In that light, it is probably a good idea to Google yourself, or your pen name, before publishing your first book.

    Thank you.

  3. Kelly1417

    This is some really great advice. I definitely can relate to sudden second-guessing at the end of the revision process. It helps to just take a step back and decide if it’s because I’m stressed, or it’s something that actually needs to be addressed.

  4. Published1

    Hello and how awesome to these authors for your newfound success! Thanks for this article; it gives me a good idea of where to turn next. I have 4 current fictional works-in-progress completed but I wasn’t sure how to proceed next. Knowing who and how to query effectively, frequenting Barnes and Nobles to scan their bookshelves for authors who write in my genre, etc. are a few activities I’ve begun and I am looking for commercial publication, so thanks for the inspiration and guidance, Emily and Chuck. I would love and benefit from a copy of Emily’s book and Chuck’s “Guide to Literary Agents.” You guys are the best!

  5. 12thsign

    Great tips! Not to be a nitpicker, but that should be “starred review” not “stared.” I’m sure a site for writers won’t mind the catch.

    Peace.

  6. jdmstudios

    Hi Emily, congratulations on the success of your new book! I’m a ways from finishing my novel but I’m the worst for going back, deleting words, rewriting, etc. Sound familiar? Nice to know other writers have the same struggles. Thanks for the suggestions 🙂

  7. Ally McCormick

    Some of these points are so true. I remember a short story I submitted to a competition came back with the judges comment: “too much tell, not enough show.” I was shocked because I had made a big effort to do the opposite. I re-read my entry and realised that many of my last minute edits and deletions had indeed introduced too much “tell”, which is often more succinct when words are limited.

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