What I Learned About Finishing A Novel

I finished my first novel.

That’s right. I finally finished my novel. I finally typed “The End” in 110 point font at 11:11 pm on Wednesday, August 28th. It was a long year of on and off writing, but I finally made it. There were times when the words just wouldn’t flow and I had to force myself to sit down and write. At the same time, there were times when the words ran across the page beautifully and I felt like I could keep on writing forever.

It was a whole new experience for me because I had never written something even close to 51,607 words. In order to write a book length work I had to plot a complex story with multidimensional characters, many emotional and physical obstacles, unexpected plot twists and proper story structure. Then, I had to go through the actual process of writing the thing. I had to sit down for hours, trying to write passages that expertly told my story in a unique voice. It was challenging because it was so new to me, but I’m glad that I pushed through and finally finished. I just did something that the majority of aspiring novelists don’t do: I didn’t just think about writing a novel-I actually wrote one. And I learned a lot during the process. In this post I’ll share with you what I learned.

But first, a little bit about my novel.

All of the information and more is on the “My WIPs” page of my blog, but I’ll restate it here just so you don’t have to click over to the page before finishing this post.

First up: my makeshift cover. It’s not official or anything. It’s just something that I whipped up to help me encourage myself as I work on my WIP.

book cover final

Title: Illusions

Genre: MG Science Fiction

The Logline:ย After escaping from prison, thirteen year old Twig must find the secrets that her captors are hiding-before the interplanetary war goes too far.

So What Did I Learn?

I Learned About My Own Writing Process

When I first got into this whole novel writing thing, I thought I was a plotter. And I am a plotter-at least in the planning stage. But when I actually get into the writing stage, I immediately turn into a pantser. Some might say that I am a plantser (a combination between a plotter and a pantser), but I don’t think I am. Where as plantsers do a little bit of plotting and a little bit of planning, I went to the extreme for both sides.

Before I actually started working on my novel, I filled up pages of my notebook with character forms, character journals, world building details and numerous outlines and synopses. ย However, when I actually started to write, I threw my whole outline to the wind. The setting and the characters are the same in my novel as they are in my outline, but the plot is completely different from the outline. The working title that I first started out with, Empty, was totally irrelevant by the end of the story because I had written something entirely different.

My novel was supposed to be about a girl who goes on a journey to find what she truly wants to do in life and who she truly is. She was to go to a planet to find a box with something that would help her to define her life. However, when she gets to the planet and finds the box, it is empty and she must rethink her process of self discovery.

Now my novel is about a girl who is sent on a mission in space to find the secrets to winning the interplanetary war that is currently raging in the galaxy. On the way to her destination, she is captured by warriors from another planet. She must escape prison and find out why she was captured. What she finds is something that changes her whole view of the war and makes her realize that she has to get home quick-before the planets in the galaxy completely destroy each other.

Those are two completely different stories.

Although the first draft of my novel turned out differently than how I had plotted it, I don’t think I would have been able to make it to the end without plotting beforehand. Even though I strayed from the plot I still had a direction and the end story goal in mind, which I gained through my plotting process. I had something to strive for. I knew that I had to get from Point A to Point B. When I started writing the novel, that was my only goal. Pretty soon, I was following all of the rabbit trails and plot twists of which I could think. This led to a much different ending than the one that I had plotted. But you know what? I love the ending of my first draft, and that’s all that matters.

Moral of the story:ย Make your first novel a learning process. Don’t define yourself strictly as one type of writer. Instead, experiment with many different techniques as you write your first novel to find what works best for you. And don’t stick strictly to your first outline either. Novels are all about revision, so let yourself revise your outline.

Also, I have a little bonus for you guys. Athelas @ Red Lettering requested that I share the last sentence of my novel. So here it is:

One lie at a time, one truth at a time, one step at a time.

Obviously, this sentence is going to be changed a lot during revision, but I like the first draft version quite a bit.

Oh wow. This is a really long post. Congratulations to you if you got all the way through. Have you ever written a novel? What did you learn?

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11 thoughts on “What I Learned About Finishing A Novel

  1. YAYYYY CONGRATS FOR FINISHING YOUR FIRST NOVEL!!!! I remember it being such an awesome feeling – it’s a long journey, after all ๐Ÿ™‚ I have a plotted outline when I start writing as well, but like you, I pretty much throw it out when I start writing. It’s just nice to HAVE that outline, you know?

    All the luck with your second draft ๐Ÿ™‚

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  2. I just finished my first novel in July. I felt so excited, much as you do! ๐Ÿ™‚
    I’m going to start revision in a couple days and am pretty nervous. It’s a daunting task.

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  3. You did it. You did it! YOU DID IT! Yeah! *Insert Dora music here* But seriously! Finishing a first draft for the first time is HUGE! I think that’s one of the biggest steps toward becoming a novelist.
    We plot in very similar ways! Especially in my first few first drafts I had pages and pages of notes what became obsolete 20 pages into the novel. Now I’m better at just plotting the very basics and inventing the rest as I go along.
    Thanks for commenting on Inklined!

    ~Sarah Faulkner

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    1. I know. I know! I KNOW! Thanks! *laughs at Dora music*. I agree that it’s one of the biggest steps toward becoming a novelist because while a lot of people might talk about writing a book, the majority never actually finish one. Yep, I use so much time plotting, but I never use much of my outline. I don’t think that that time is wasted, though, because it helps me really get a feel and direction for the story.

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  4. Woow, a whole novel? That’s a real accomplishment, Ana! Congrats!
    I’ve never written anything that long before, though I would really like to. I have a hard time thinking of a good story idea… mostly I just fill my sketchbook with random scribbles and half built worlds and characters which I can never seem to craft into a coherent plot.
    Oh well. In the meantime, I’ll just cheer for you!
    (Oh yeah, and when you’re done with your novel, could you post it online? Cos I would loooooooove to read it.)

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    1. Thank you! My notebooks are filled with so many half finished stories and poems, so don’t feel bad. It took me a while to actually finish this thing and it’s hard not to give up in the middle and leave behind another unfinished work. Maybe when I’m done with revisions I’ll show it to you. Right now, though, it’s an embarrassing mess that really needs revising.

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  5. I already said this, but it’s certainly worth repeating… CONGRATULATIONS! Hooray! Do you have a plan for what you’ll do now?
    I finished my first novel a few years ago (*shudders* Don’t ask about it. Just… don’t ask.), and then finished a much larger novel-project the month before last… The one thing that I’ve really learned through it all is to love your characters. None of it matters if you don’t love the characters.

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    1. Thanks! I have about three more weeks left in my six week break. Then I’ll get started on the second draft, or the macro edit. Congrats on finishing your second novel! I agree that you really do have to love your characters to succeed in writing a novel. I don’t think I outlined my characters enough for the first draft, so that’s something that I really want to focus on during the second draft.

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  6. 1. CONGRATS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    2. DOUBLE CONGRATS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    3. TRIPLE CONGRATS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    4. Okay. I got to get serious now. So. I’ve tried to write even short stories before, and I just CAN’T. Like, it starts off as a really cool idea, then I start working into it, and I’m just like, eeeehhhhh. Sooooo borinngggggggg! So I stopped. I probably have, what, 4? 5? Of those.
    5. I neither plan nor plot. I just go in and wing it. Probably not a good idea though…
    6. To make up for number 4, I actually did rewrite the ending of The Book Thief for summer reading. That was 27 pages, and you can check it out on my blog if you want. I actually had a lot of fun. I think I write better when I start off with already built-in characters and settings. Just easier. I just had to, well, resolve the story…
    7. All my stories (except that one summer reading project, sadly) are so… I guess cliche and boring. I hope to read yours, though! You are sooooo good at writing!
    8. Haha. That’s you on the cover. Nice. ๐Ÿ™‚ You know, I have a suggestion. You could, for the cover art, take a picture of your whole (back) frame with your arms reaching out and “holding” two worlds. So the weight of two worlds are in your arms… Get it? Get it? ๐Ÿ™‚ I can help if you want. ๐Ÿ™‚ Oh yeah, and did you actually sign it? I mean, with touch-screen Chromebooks and all….
    9. QUADRUPLE CONGRATS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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