Day 0: Disbelief
The day you finish is a day of mixed feelings. It's hard to explain what happens when you finish your first draft of a novel. Or, at least, it's hard to explain what happened to me. My first urge was to just continue writing. How was I supposed to know if I had made a satisfying ending for my reader? But after adding 100 words (that will probably all get cut out later), I ended it. No, I didn't write "The End" at the bottom, though in hindsight, I wish I would have. But, I did compile it into a Manuscript and save it as "Katherine's Destiny - First Draft."
But then what are you to do? I think the best approach is to spread the word. Some people know you have been writing; some have noticed your distance even if they didn't know the reason; others had no idea.
The first thing I did was email my writing partner, without whom I couldn't have finished. Then I text my husband. Well, to be more precise, I blew up his phone with dozens of texts meant to convey my shear bliss. Then I posted about it on Facebook; then Twitter; then I called my parents; and so on. And after that was all over, I sat down to enjoy the rest of January 16, 2014--the day I finished the first draft of my first novel.
Day 1: Anxiety
The first day afterwards is the worst. You know you should celebrate, but how do you celebrate finishing a novel? It's no small accomplishment. And I celebrated by buying (and eating) three donuts. Unfortunately, I couldn't even enjoy my donuts as the horrifying realization that, now that my novel is written, I have to edit, revise, and rewrite a great deal of it set in. Weirdly, while I was writing my novel, I almost never thought about it except when I had sudden inspiration or I was actually sitting down to write. I was never haunted by what I should have written or how I could make it better.
But now? All I can think about is fixing every little problem that I know exists. Now that I know how it ends, I know all of those scenes that didn't work--all of the scenes that either need to go or need a serious rewrite.
The problem is, I know a little bit about writing. I've been writing and editing for as long as I can remember. And editing doesn't work if you do it right after you finish. I know that I need distance. I have to forget about my novel and go in blind if I want to edit it effectively.
Despite every urge that tells you to immediately dig-in, you must control yourself. Go for a walk; do errands you've been putting off; clean the inside of your oven; do anything. It may not work, but at least you tried. To be honest, it didn't really work for me. I may not have touched my novel, but I still thought about it all day.
Day 2: Guilt
The experience on day two may be different for everyone, depending on how consistently you've been writing. For me, two days after writing my last line, I started to feel guilty. After all, I had been writing fairly consistently for two and half months. Now, I didn't have anything to write; I wasn't working on anything; I had no direction.
I finished my novel on a Thursday, which meant that I had to deal with the weekend. The weekend can be rough if you don't have any plans. I woke up on Saturday thinking that, if I could just do something productive, I could get my mind of my novel and then start the editing process. Honestly, I knew I needed more than two days of distance, but I started to feel like I couldn't handle anymore time away.
So, I spent a couple of hours dealing with stressful financial issues, a couple of hours shopping for some last minute baby items, a couple of hours cooking, and a couple of hours cleaning. But it didn't matter; I still spent most of the day thinking about my novel. And because I still hadn't achieved any emotional distance, it became clear to me that I couldn't start the process of revision.
The only way to get past the guilt is to move on. The best advice I've seen is to write something else. Write a personal essay or a short story. Maybe you can write a poem. But do not under any circumstances write anything for your novel. Now is not the time to write a tagline, dedication, or summary. Personally, I decided to start writing this blog post.
Day 3: Relief
I think day three is the day that it starts to come together. Reality hit me, and I knew I accomplished something that some people only dream of accomplishing. Sure, I had not read my novel or done any editing, so it could be awful. But I know that there is a complete story there, even if I do have to polish it.
So day three is easy. You can relax. Hopefully, in three days you were able to achieve some distance. While most people recommend at least a week if not more before you start editing, I think it's okay if you start editing tomorrow. You've taken three days and (hopefully) written something else. Don't get me wrong! Don't do anything today. Don't plan on edits; don't get ready for edits; don't think about edits. Just relax and continue working on something else. But, take heart, you can return to your baby tomorrow.
Day 4: Sit Down and Read your Novel
Congratulations! You've completed a novel, achieved some emotional distance, and are now ready to start editing.
I used Scrivener (the computer program I use to write with) and compiled my manuscript into an eBook that I was able to upload unto my Nook. If you can, try to just sit back and read your novel as if it was really published. Avoid making too many notes and highlights. Today is not the day for writing. It is a day for reading.
Rachel Paxton is a typer of words in Dallas, TX.