The End

The End

By Allan Howe

©2001, Allan Howe 



I finished my manuscript on Thursday, May 17th at 1:20 p.m. To a writer, the event of completing your first novel is akin to when JFK was shot or when Armstrong took his first steps – you remember where you were. I was at work on my lunch hour when I finally wrote ‘END’ a couple of spaces below the last line. Not the most exciting place to be, I know. But that didn’t matter to me one bit. What mattered was that I was finally finished!

Now, I know it doesn’t look like it so far, but the purpose of this article is not to gloat or shout out to the heavens that I’ve finally finished. Nay, the point of all of this is to try and pass on a few of the things I stumbled upon during the whole experience, in the hope that those of you still working on your first novel can avoid them (or run smack dab into them as the case may be).

Right off the top, let me just say that there is no secret to writing. There is no magic pill that will give you the stamina (yes, I said stamina), creativity or the balls (all writers need them, man or woman) that are required to finish a novel. From what I’ve heard, I’m one of the lucky ones. I set out to write a book about three months ago and finished it in roughly the timeframe I had envisioned, with no false starts to speak of.

That doesn’t mean that I didn’t run into difficulties. Far from it. There were a few times that I got stuck (one of those times I thought I’d never get unstuck). But I persevered. On those few occasions when I did stumble, what helped me find my way again was talking about it with my wife. That’s not to say that she gave me ideas for the story (although she did). Mostly, it was just enough to talk it over with someone, get the problems out in the open and look at them from all possible angles. Pick someone who you can trust and who supports what you’re trying to do (that in itself is sometimes hard enough to do) and just babble away about whatever’s got you stumped. You’ll be amazed at how well this works.

It could be argued that had I used an outline for my plot, I wouldn’t have run into these roadblocks. That may be true, but for me, not using an outline ended up being of far greater benefit than harm. I think it’s safe to say (even after only one book) that I am one of those writers that starts out with an idea for a story and just has to run with it, letting the plot fill itself in as I go. This method may not be as common as planning the whole thing out, but it does allow for a certain degree of creative freedom that outlining does not. What I mean by this is that with outlining, I believe your “creative paths” (for lack of a better term) are already mapped out. You know where you want the story to go, so you automatically “think” down that path in order to follow your outline. Although I’m not knocking this method (it certainly would have saved me some headaches), I think you unconsciously stifle your creativity when trying to mold the story to fit a predetermined structure.

What I experienced was that, although I met with some resistance at times, the story seemed to take on a life of its own. Many times I would be writing away, thinking it was going in one direction, when all of a sudden it would take an unexpected twist. Before I knew it, protagonist became antagonist, or a character I had thought would live until the end died instead. This was a delightful way to experience the story.

One of the reasons many people never finish their novel (again, just an opinion) is because they get bored with the plot or the characters and start thinking of it as work, as a chore. This is the death knell for any manuscript. Even if you do finish it, it will feel cold and empty. The ending may seem rushed, as if the author was in a hurry to get it done and move on to something else, which is what most likely happened. One of the best ways to avoid this is to have the story remain fresh and exciting throughout the writing process. Discovering the story as you write it can certainly accomplish this.

The above method actually helps to avoid another big pitfall that many of us find ourselves in. Most writers (especially beginners like myself) agree that the most difficult task to accomplish is not coming up with the ideas, or silencing the inner critic, or even finding the time to write, but rather finding the stamina it takes to write consistently. Do I see a few nodding heads out there? I must agree that this was tough for me also. It was hard enough to find the energy and the will to write almost daily when I was working on a story that I enjoyed. I can’t imagine trying to write one I had become disenchanted with. More often than not I found myself looking forward to my writing sessions simply because I was excited to see what would happen to my main character that day. I simply became the tool by which the novel found its way onto the paper. The story itself told the tale. And I was thrilled at being swept along for the ride.

There was something else that helped motivate me during times of crisis. This may very well be a controversial subject (actually, I know it is), so I won’t beat around the bush. I’ll just spit it out. One of the main reasons I write is to get published and one day make a living from my writing. Still there? Let me be absolutely clear on this so that there are no misunderstandings. I love to write. I really, really do. But I do not write solely for my own enjoyment. If I did, I probably wouldn’t be so dedicated to treating my writing seriously. If it were just a hobby, I would only do it when I felt like it. I certainly wouldn’t sit down and force myself to pump out a few pages at 11:30 p.m. after a hard day.

As I said, this is a controversial topic. Many people I’ve spoken with say that you have to treat writing and publishing as separate entities. I’ve never been one to subscribe to the majority’s way of thinking, however. I believe that if you want to have your writing published, you have to recognize this as one of your goals and use it every day as a motivational tool. There has been many a time when the thought of sleeping in, working on my own schedule, not punching a clock (or setting one) and writing whenever I felt like it instead of when I could squeeze an hour in, has helped me shake off procrastination long enough to get the fingers moving again.

Remember, I promised to share a few things with you that have helped me become a better writer. Whether they work for you is for you to find out. But the important thing is to find out. And you can only accomplish this one way, and that is to write! It sounds simple, but I’m constantly amazed when I talk to people (a few on the boards here, as a matter of fact) that tell me that they want to be a writer, and that they are reading all kinds of books on how to be one, and that they admire so-and-so and they’ve read everything he has ever written. Then I ask them what they are currently working on, and they respond, “Oh, I haven’t started writing yet, I’m still learning.” People, I know you’ve heard this before, from far better writers than I (published writers even), but it bears repeating. YOU HAVE TO WRITE TO BE A WRITER!

Don’t tell me that it’s hard to find the time, or that you have two kids that require constant attention, or that you work two jobs and have just enough time to sleep and eat. All of these are valid excuses, but they are just that – excuses. If you really want to write, you’ll find a way. You’ll treat your desire like more than just a hobby. You’ll get serious about your craft.

One more thing I want to share with you. This may be the best motivation of all to finish that novel you’ve been struggling with. It’s that feeling you get when you’re done. I imagine that flying feels something like this. It’s the weightlessness, the freedom, the accomplishment, the pure joy of the moment. The second you type ‘END’, you join a club that is a lot smaller than you might think. You join that group of people who have written a novel. A whole novel! And it is an incredible feeling.

I don’t know if finishing your second novel, or your third, or your fifteenth, has the same feeling as when you complete your first, but I definitely intend to find out. I’ve discovered a hunger that has me wanting to experience not only this feeling again, but also all of the varied emotions that come along with the journey. I sincerely hope I get to welcome more of you into the club very soon.

I am 33 years old and live in Toronto, Canada. I have dabbled since high school, but only recently decided that writing was what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I’m married and have two kids, so I know what it’s like to have to squeeze the time in to write. I am currently at work on my second novel, and editing the first.