Congratulations! You’re now in a select club with surprisingly few members. You’ve actually finished a novel. You had an idea, you put in all the hard work to get it on the page and you’ve finally typed “the end”.
What should you do now?
This isn’t going to give any tips or advice on getting an agent or self-publishing, you don’t necessarily need to do either of those. Getting to the end is its own reward. This is about those moments after you’re finished, when you’re looking around the room and saying “what next”?
Everyone forgets this step and I think it’s the most critical part of the process. You finished a mother fucking book. You’re the best thing ever! You did it. No one can ever take this accomplishment away from you.
So get out there an celebrate your wonderful accomplishment. Go out to dinner. Have a drink with your partner. Do something, because you deserve it.
I feel like everyone forgets this step, but it’s the most important one of all.
2. Finish the “monster” rewrites
Here’s what I mean. If you’re anything like me (my condolences) you keep a running list of all the things you need to go back and add to your book. For example, here’s what my list looks like for the book I’m working on:
- Add something about the weather in chapter one
- Abby should have athsma
- More about Heather and her friendship with Liz
- Fix Liz’s relationship with her mom in the early chapters
And so on. Even if you don’t keep a list like this, there’s probably some easy structural edits you can make. A the bare minimum, think about how your book ends. Does the main character jump out of a plane with no parachute to foil the back guy?
You need to make sure there’s a scene in the early book about how the main character is afraid of jumping out of planes. Now is the time to add layers and nuance and foreshadowing to your book. Do you have a Chekhov’s gun that doesn’t fire? Get rid of it.
3. Take a Break
Writing an entire book is draining. It takes dedication, focus and a weird amount of perseverance. You are probably exhausted, with a slurry of emotions swimming in your head. It’s both exciting and depressing when you finish. It’s something you’ve poured your everything into, for months or even years.
You need time to recharge.
Take a week off and don’t worry about writing. Let your pool of good ideas refill. Read some of those books you’ve been neglecting because you’ve been too busy writing your own.
Whatever you do, get some down time, so when it’s time for book two, you’re energized and passionate again.
4. Do a cover to cover read
There. You’e celebrated by going on a hot air balloon picnic. You took a break and binge watched the entire Dr. Who catalog, starting all the way back in the 60’s.
I hope you had a nice time!
Now it’s time to book (ha ha, I made a pun) yourself off for an entire day. Unplug the TV, turn off your phone and stay away from the internet. You are going to read your completed novel, cover to cover, without stopping.
It’s a great way to check your book for flow, pacing and plot issues. Did you repeat the same points in chapter 10 that you already made in chapter 6? Does a protagonist randomly disappear for 5 chapters? Is the middle section slow?
The point isn’t to fix any of these, the point is to consume your book in a single sitting so you can figure out what you need to address when you get down to a serious edit.
6. Leave the book alone at least two months
Now comes the easiest part of the whole process. Doing nothing. Gang, it’s really that easy. You only need to to sit there, not touching your book, for at least two months.
Originally I was going to write six months, because I don’t think two is actually long enough, but I figured no one could wait that long.
You really need to wait. Before you start down the path of second and third and fourth and fifth drafts, you need to let the book sit. Start a new project, work on something else, however you do it, you need to come back to the book with fresh eyes.
I recently went back to re-read my first book. It’s staggering how many problems I caught when I took it in with a clean perspective. It has massive pacing problems in the early chapters that I never would have caught – and in fact, didn’t catch – when I was going through edits. I needed the time away to let the impact of the book fade.
I really hope you’re reading this article because you’ve actually finished a book. If you’re one of the ones who has, show it off in the comments! Link to your book or your WIP or just get in there and brag. Great job!