Finishing Your Novel

“A writer is someone who finishes.”
--  Thomas Farber

This section is for you if:

            You’ve started a novel but are having trouble finishing it, or

            You want to start a novel but aren’t sure you’ll be able to finish it.

I’ve been writing novels (and teaching about writing novels) for twenty years, and one thing I’ve learned is how to finish.  I’d estimate that 98% of all the novels people begin are never completed.  Every person who abandons a book feels that he or she has a good reason, but my experience suggests that most of those books could have been finished – the writer just came up against something he or she couldn’t handle.

This section is about how to handle those things. It’s about starting with a good idea, developing it, and moving your story ahead until you reach the end.

Finishing a novel (or any kind of writing project) is a transformational experience.  I know, because it’s happened to me.  I want it to happen to you, too.


A long time ago, something funny happened to me.

I thought I was a writer. I thought I was a writer because I had begun three novels over the course of a few years, noodling on each of them every time inspiration struck, which wasn’t often.  (More about inspiration later.)  But still, I thought of myself as a writer – all I had to do was finish one of those books.

And then my house burned down.  Naturally, I had backups of all my unfinished novels, and naturally, they were all in the house.  I had a life-changing revelation: If I had finished those books, they'd probably exist somewhere – in print, or at a publisher, or in a box in the garage.  And then I had a second revelation: whatever I was, I wasn't a novelist, because I hadn't finished a novel.

So I made some notes on the book I remembered best, flew to Thailand, and wrote the whole thing in seven weeks.  And it got me an agent, and then a three-book contract, which led to another three-book contract, etc. In other words, finishing the book turned me into a writer.

This area of the site is based on what I've learned since then.  Here's what you'll find on  it.

Part 1: Introduction and overview

            1.  For Openers
            2.  Why Don't You Finish That Book?
            3.  Who Am I to Give You Advice?
            4.  What About Talent?

Part 2: Getting started

            1.  The Ten Rules of Finishing
            2.  Work Habits
            3.  Good Days, Bad Days
            4.  An Idea You Can Live With
            5.  Who Tells Your Story?
            6.  Tone-deaf
            7.  Yesterday or today?
            8.  Populating Your Book
            9.  And Then He Said...
            10.  Setting as a Character
            11.  Giving a Damn

Part 3: Following the line

            1.  Act One
            2.  What's a Scene? (And What's a Chapter?)
            3.  To Outline or Not to Outline?
            4.  Exposition
            5.  What we leave out
            6.  Listening to your characters
            7.  The shape of your story
            8.  The dread middle

Part 4: Getting out of trouble

            1.  The critic
            2.  Losing Interest
            3.  The dead scene
            4.  Architectural problems

Part 5: Finishing up and some thoughts on publishing

            1.  Finishing Up
            2.  About publishing
            3.  Writing for life

Part 6: Additional resources

            1.  Additional Resources