The Trick to a First Novel Is to Finish It

One of the hardest parts of writing your first novel is finishing it. I know that the first novel I started didn’t get very far. Every time I worked on it, I would have to read what I’d written before, and instead of writing new, I’d end up re-writing the old stuff. You know, editing it and fixing it. There’s a kind of perfectionist attitude that is hard to get over – how can you write the rest of the story when so much of this is just wrong?

I’ve never spoken to a writer who could look at his/her work and not find something to change. But if you’re constantly changing what you have, you can’t move forward.

So how do you stop?

Well, you may be sick of people telling you to write every day, but it does help. When you write every day, the details of what you wrote the day before are fresh, so you don’t really need to re-read it to move on. You’re also more likely to like what you wrote: since you only wrote it the day before, your idea of the plot and characters probably hasn’t changed too much (which it will over long periods of not writing). If you start where you left off and don’t re-read, then the continuity helps you resist editing.

If you can’t fit writing every day into your schedule, you may have to set some rules. I let myself fix grammar errors I found, but I couldn’t change the story unless I honestly couldn’t find a way to move ahead with the way it was – which, to be honest, does happen every few weeks or months but not every day or every time I write. Even then, I only change parts that don’t match with the new plot direction.

Whether these methods work for you or not, the point is to finish the book. You can always go back and edit it later (and, believe me, you will). Once you finish it, though, it becomes easier to write the next one. Now that you know you can do it, that perfectionism loses some power. “I have to fix this before I go on” becomes “I can fix that later.”

And, honestly, you can always fix it later.


  1. […] on how much editing you are allowed to do in a span of time – otherwise, you’ll never finish the first draft. You’ll just keep re-writing the first few […]

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