I will thank the Lord with all my heart as I meet with his godly people. How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! All who delight in him should ponder them. Psalm 111:1-2 NLT

Friday, June 17, 2011

When is a Novel Finished?

Six months ago I started a new job. One of the most important things on my mind when I moved out of super-secret-training room into the cubicle sea was the piece of real estate I would occupy. I figured they’d shuffle the faithful ten-year employees to our limited number of empty, window-view cubes.

So, imagine my surprise when I landed a grand view of downtown Minneapolis--it's to the left, not shown in the picture, really, I promise--and the building next door.

Just your average two-story cinderblock building of office/garage space. Except the garage doors are made of crooked sheets of plywood covered in graffiti and flanked by a workman’s biffy. Between the scaffolding and dumpsters and guys tarring the flat roof, I had high hopes my view would improve soon. Especially since (yes, the irony of it all) the building is owned by a Building Restoration Corporation, which shall remain nameless.

One day a coworker came to my cube (to gawk at the workers on the hot tar roof, I'm sorry to say) and I did the small talk thing, saying something like “The building is probably going to look amazing when they finish it, being owned by a Building Restoration Corporation and all.”

“Oh, honey, they aren’t ever gonna finish it,” Coworker replies. “I’ve been here going on ten years, and every year they’re up there on the roof, improving the view, but not the building…if you know what I mean.”


This got me thinking about my novel. How will I know when it’s finished? Surely it isn’t meant to be worked on forever like the building next door (although if your novel still has noticeably crooked plywood doors, you might want to keep working on it for a while).

To find the answer I checked out some blogs to see how others know when their novel is finished:

After you type ‘The End.’ Duh. (But I think I've heard of something called 'rewriting'...)

My novel has been published for years, and I’m still revising it. (Okay, not mine…not very helpful. Or very hopeful. Next…)

If you can imagine an agent reading it and don’t feel ashamed. (Ouch!)

When the changes you keep making don’t make it any better. (A possibility.)

My personal favorite:

Honestly, I don’t have a clue. Well, maybe when you’re on the verge of hating everything about your work because you’ve read it so many times. (Now there’s honesty for you!)

So, for those of you who have finished your masterpieces, how did you know it was finished? Please help the rest of us….

Happy RE-writing,



  1. I wrote "The End" the other day, and I know the story, in-and-of-itself is finished because I'm a plotter. And I hit all the plot points. And the last chapter feels like the day I gave birth to my last child--I knew for sure it was the last chapter. HOWEVER, I have a BUNCH of edits to do, gaps to fill, characters to revise who morphed into completely different people by the end. Since I'm not a published novelist, I guess my opinion doesn't matter much. But if the book ever does reach bookstores, I'll know my hunch was right. :) great post, Beth!

  2. Once I finished Lakeside Reunion and submitted it for critiquing, I knew it was finished when it was the very best I could do at that time.

    When I received the revision letter, I realized, after some distance, that I could still improve it. Then when I received the final edits--last chance for changes--I noticed other things that could be improved.

    In the past six months, my writing has continued to improve. Plus distance from the manuscript helped me to see it with fresh eyes.

    I'm sure when I read the book again--if I do--I'll groan and see other things that can be changed. But for me, the novel is finished when I'm happy with the final result because I wrote the very best that I could at that time. Plus getting feedback from others really helps in showing areas of improvement.

    Great post, Ames!

  3. Thanks for the great insight, Amy! Good thoughts on hitting all of the plot points you are going for, then knowing there will be edits and being okay with that! Thanks!

    -Amy L

  4. LJ, I love what you said about your novel being finished when you know it is the very best you can write at that time. That gives me confidence that there IS an endpoint, but leaves me feeling okay that when I pick it up later, if I can still see changes...it's because I've become a better writer! What an awesome way to think about it! Thanks for sharing!

  5. And...congrats on writing The End, Amy! Very cool accomplishment!

  6. I don't know if my book will ever be finished. I've written The End, but just this morning I woke up with an idea...and here I am again...maybe your book is like your kids...
    Great Post, Ames!

  7. Great job on writing The End, Pat, and great that you are still getting ideas!

    I'll have to wait to see, since I don't have the kiddos yet to compare it to!

  8. Technically, I don't know if I can answer your question, Amy, because technically, I don't know that my finished product is a "masterpiece." :) But, I did decide to call it good (for now) when I'd revised it probably four or five times...I decided I needed to let go for now and move on to the next project. However, that doesn't mean I still don't get the hankering now and then to go back and keep polishing Georgia and Case and their tractor adventures...:)

  9. I think it is a masterpiece, M-Tagg! (And I can't wait to read the published version that I KNOW will come out someday!)

    So four to five times, huh...I've gotta get busy!

  10. I'm sorry, Amy, I thought Beth wrote the post because
    I found it from the tweet she sent about it. Nice to meet you and awesome post! Thanks for your wisdom and encouragement!

  11. Amy, that's okay. I take it as a compliment to be mistaken for Beth! Nice to meet you, too! Thanks for your thoughtful words!

  12. Beth chiming in here . . . Amy meet Amy. Two of my favorite Amys . . . and then there's my daughter Amy . . . but I digress.

    When do I know I'm done? When the publisher says so.
    I always want one more read through. Wish You Were Here is going through edits right now and I keep thinking, "Give me one more chance to rewrite it . . ."


  13. Ames, this was such a great post! I loved how you compared it to the building next store, always in process and never complete or beautiful. I also appreciated all the insight from wise women above. Each point is worth considering. Some day, I'm gonna have to figure out when to write "The End."

  14. I'm just starting out on this journey. I think there are stages to "The End". I finished the first draft of my romantic suspense in January after 2 1/2 months of frantic writing. I've been through the whole thing again, tweaking and editing. I've been waiting for the feedback from the Frasier before going through it one more time. Now that school is out (strains of the "Hallelujah Chorus" float through the air!) I plan to revise again based on the helpful feedback. Like Lisa shared, there will be more revisions during the publishing process.

    So I guess my opinion is that a book is finally finished when it isn't possible to make any more changes. Most writers will continue making revisions until someone cuts them off. I think we're all a little psychotic!

  15. This is great--such a great and fresh necessary take on a subject I've wondered a lot about, too. And I appreciate the variety of comment answers. Thanks, Amy!