It’s exciting to finish a novel, but it’s common for people not know what to do next. Do they submit it to publishers? Do they post the whole thing on reddit or Wattpad? Do they print off a dozen copies and hand them to random people on the street?
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be walking through what to do once your novel is done. Like with writing itself, there are nearly as many different methods as there are authors. But the advice I’m giving here is what I’ve seen work for the most people, and if you stick with it, is the most likely to give a satisfactory result.
(Note: Portions of this have previously been adapted into the FAQ on /r/writing.)
Congratulations! You’ve finished your novel. Maybe you managed to do it all during National Novel Writing Month. Maybe it’s been the labor of several decades.
Regardless, you’ve finished.
Writing is fun. I spend hours working on stories that will never see the light of day, just for the fun of writing. It’s hard, sure. It can be a struggle; it takes discipline; it takes an enormous amount of time to actually finish a story. But it’s fun. You get to see your story come to life, and you have actual words scrawled out on the page (or your computer screen. Then they’re glowing!)
But you’ve written your story, whether it’s 35,000 words or 350,000.
So now what?
The easy answer is “Write something else.” Some people would say, “Now you get to try to submit it to agents. Good luck.” Your friends who’ve seen you struggle over the last month or several years might say, “Aren’t you glad that’s over?”
What happens now may take even more discipline than writing every day to get the story out.
Take a break.
Take a week off.
Don’t write something else, avoid watching shows or movies that are similar to your book, and, whatever you do, don’t reread your novel itself.
This includes social media too. Write up one of those long posts about how you’re all worn out from writing and can’t take Facebook anymore if you have to, then get off it for a week. Write as little as you possibly can.
If you must read, find something as different as you can. Something you normally wouldn’t read. Go from your sword and sorcery to Sherlock Holmes or from your epic retelling of the Battle of Waterloo to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
But seriously, take a break.
This will take discipline. Because you’re breaking a habit. You’ve been writing so much that you should be doing it almost instinctively. And that has to stop. For an entire week.
And, after that, try to avoid going back to your story for a month. Don’t reread it, avoid things that are similar to it, and whatever you do, don’t start editing yet.
You need to get out of the story for a while. You’ve lived and breathed this story for a month, at least. Probably longer than that, while it was straining to get out onto the page. If you dive right back into it, you’ll burn out. You won’t remember what you were thinking when you wrote the passage. You’ll decide that you really don’t need to introduce “that stupid guy nobody likes anyway” (aka “the protagonist.”)
Or worse, you’ll still be absorbed in the story. You’ll skip over plot holes because you remember what’s supposed to be there. You’ll miss typos, skip scenes, all sorts of things that need to be changed.
So, take a break. That’s “what now.”
Writing is fun, but there’s a long road ahead. You’ll need to be rested up for it.
When you’re done with your break, move on to the next post in the series: Rewriting Is Important.