When have you finished?


Is the end of your novel really the end?

At ten past eleven this morning, I wrote ‘The End’ on the last page of my new manuscript. Instantly Winston Churchill is at my side. ‘Now this is not the end…’ he growls. ‘…it is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.’

            Doubtless Winnie has a point. I have an awful lot of work to do before the novel is really finished. As Terry Pratchett said, ‘The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.’ I finally know what my story is about, I understand its narrative arc, I know what the text is leading to. But I didn’t know that at the beginning so I have to go back and make sure the right seeds are sown so that the reader doesn’t feel cheated, but isn’t bored by the inevitable either. I have to round out my characters, add a few more scenes for the story to flow better, polish up my prose, delete all extraneous adverbs, check the grammar, increase the texture, remove the clichés … I feel exhausted just thinking about it.

            A published writer friend of mine once said she came across her book in a shop and couldn’t resist looking at it again. ‘Did you feel pleased or excited?’  I asked her. ‘Neither,’ she replied, ‘I just saw all the mistakes.’ Now I’m sure there weren’t any mistakes: manuscripts are structurally edited, copy edited, proof read, and whilst errors do creep in, they are few and far between. But my friend is a perfectionist (that’s why she’s such a good writer). If I’d asked her whether she considered her novel was finished, she’d have probably said no. As we mature and refine our style, early work can look very different. But we have to stop somewhere otherwise we would never publish anything.

            I know I have many more weeks of editing ahead of me. There is lots of work to be done before I can consider my book finished. As Churchill said, this is just ‘the end of the beginning.’

But, hey, I have now a first draft. The redrafting can start tomorrow. Tonight I’m opening the Prosecco!