Thursday, 16 October 2014

Finishing a Novel


     When I first started writing my debut novel, Jack Strong and the Red Giant three years ago I imagined that upon its completion something akin to fireworks would explode: I would dance, thrust my hands in the hair, fist-pump, and hug and tell all my friends. In the eventuality however, these feelings of joy and triumph never materialised; in the end I felt more melancholy than anything, like a hot air balloon without its helium. At first, I thought that this must be a one-off since I'd been writing a collection of poetry for my MA at the time, which had tired me out a great deal, but lo and behold similar sensations of lethargy and emptiness also accompanied the completion of the second book in the Jack Strong series as well as my most recent effort, Dragon Rider. Where do these feelings come from and why are they here at all?

     Chickens and Eggs

     If the author is the chicken then the novel is most assuredly the egg and in a sense this metaphor helps explain the melancholy that often comes with the finishing of a novel. The writer has spent so long - years or even decades in some cases - knocking out storylines, framing characters, and spitting out words that a sense of sadness at the end of this process is not entirely unreasonable - it is our baby after all and at the end of the day we are sad to see it go.
     But what should we do about it, if anything? First of all, I think that you should accept it for what it is - I do - it's part of the novel writing process after all, but I also think that for a week or two afterwards you should do something different, something non-writing related. If I can I try to time the completion of a novel with a holiday, or if that's not possible I do a few of the things that I've missed out on over the previous three or four months, namely spending some quality time with friends, or else even checking out some of the sales at the local shopping centre. That way I give my body and my brain time to relax and refresh: I have to be full of energy after all to write the next novel. Just make sure you don't spend too long chilling out at the beach or in some nightclub - all you need is two or three weeks of R and R and then you should be ready to sit down in front of the proverbial typewriter again.

     It's a Marathon, not a Sprint

     Unfortunately, writing and publishing a novel is not a sprint, it's a marathon. Finishing the last sentence is really just the start of a long, drawn out process of a race that you may never actually finish. After the last words have been typed out and after a break of anywhere between a few weeks and a few months the writer is faced with the hugely difficult task of editing anywhere between 40,000 words for a small novel and 150,000 for a really big one. This process can often take longer than the actual time it took to write it and can be very stressful for the author, especially as he/she struggles with tiredness and a niggling sense of "Will this ever get done?"
     Then after the author declares the editing finished, there is the veritable jungle of trying to find an agent and/or a publisher (and if they're really lucky readers), and if this first part of the journey is unsuccessful (which it so often can be) then there's the Amazon route, which of course is not without its own considerable challenges. Which ultimately is why a writer, upon finishing the first draft, isn't fist-pumping and dancing with all around him: because they know that deep down it is only the beginning down a long and winding road ...

     If you want to read my novel, Jack Strong and the Red Giant, about a bullied, 12 year old boy's adventures in space then check out the link below:

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