authors / To Hunt a Sub / writers

What I learned from finishing my novel

Let’s be honest. For most of us, completing our book (which I have done twice in the last three months) means starting a new one. There won’t be agents waiting breathlessly checkbook in hand, or (if we’re lucky enough to have an agent) publishers in a frenzied bidding war over the power of our prose.

I’ve finished three books and neither of these happened. In fact, the only reason I knew I finished was because I was too f*** sick of the story to edit one more line.

This time, maybe it’ll be different. I’m not counting on it even though I have an agent who has guided me through the edits. I’m already telling those few who know I’m a writer how much I grew personally by writing this book, and that what I’ve learned from the process is more valuable than any crass money and fleeting fame inherent to being a published author.

But since you ask, I’ve made a list. Here’s what I learned from writing this my third unpublished book:

  • hope springs eternal. Have you ever met an ex-writer?
  • writing is your muse’s circadian rhythm. Every time you put your pen down for the last time, you start again in the morning
  • to NOT write a fourth (likely unpublished) book would be as likely as putting toothpaste back in its tube
  • the grass is always greener on the other side of a book. Always
  • few things are less interesting than a friend’s unpublished novel. That’s why I have beta readers
  • God must love unpublished authors because he makes so many of us (replace ‘unpublished’ with ‘Indie’ if you’d like)
  • I’ve transcended the belief that book sales means authorial success. I now realize I’ll have to settle for a sense of personal fulfillment and a cup of coffee
  • over-editing results in nightmares

That’s it. You now know everything I’ve learned from writing a book and you didn’t have to spend two years, eleven months, twenty-four days and eight hours in the foxhole learning it.

Jacqui Murray is the editor of a K-6 technology curriculumK-8 keyboard curriculum, creator of two technology training books for middle school and six ebooks on technology in education. She is the author of Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.comEditorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing TeachersCisco guest blog,Technology in Education featured blogger, IMS tech expert, and a bi-weekly contributor to Write Anything. Currently, she’s editing a thriller that should be out to publishers next summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

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12 thoughts on “What I learned from finishing my novel

  1. Pingback: 10 Hits and Misses for 2014 | WordDreams...

  2. Pingback: Writers Tip #72: Don’t Worry About What Others Think | WordDreams...

  3. I’m not sure where this quote comes from but I also ascribe to this thinking: I write because everything else is harder.

    Writing for me is both a pleasure and a privilege. I write because I can. Finishing a story, a book, a play, whatever means you’re a writer and not a wanna be. I write therefore I am.

    But mostly I think we write because we want a “witness” to our lives and with things like blogs, writers’ groups, the internet and self publishing (if you can afford it) we have that. I rest my case 🙂 Cat


  4. You coined it admirably. Long before I got internet and even considered publishing. I poured out story after story and had a blast doing it. Now I spend lots of time fixing all my beginners mistakes (something I knew nothing about until recently) I’m pretty much caught up. I’ll start this editing thing up again as soon as I get ready to publish another book.


  5. I just love the ‘things you’ve learned’. Writing is a bug and once you’re bitten, there’s no turning back.

    Just think about what George Orwell had to say about it:

    “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand”


  6. This doesn’t need a reply; the topic was so interesting I had to throw in a few thoughts. I’ve known that feeling at least seven times, eight if you count a short novel (45,000 words) and story collection. I used to think it was great. Now it almost doesn’t seem that important because it simply means I’ll be diving into something else.

    2nd – there is such a thing as an ex-writer. I’ve been one three times in my life. Well and truly and finally threw in the towel and decided no matter going for the brass ring. There are more important things than getting a novel published with your name attached. Unfortunately, while you can quit writing, it’s hard to stay quit. If you live long enough, you might get the fever again. Which has happened to me enough that I finally gave up the effort to walk away. It would be easier to stop breathing. And that may be the case.

    3rd I have come to the conclusion that you and I think most artists in whatever field – writing, art, acting -eventually arrive at. When your dreams of fame and glory have been pummeled to death, you realize that that novel, or painting, or acting job in community theater, is and has to be it’s own reward. There is no guarantee of success, and in fact almost a certainty of failure because only a limited number of people in any field will ever achieve financial success or acclaim. So the most you can hope for is to love what you’re doing. And if lightning eventually does strike, and you’re one of the lucky few, it’s the cherry on top.


    • If I’ve learned anything, it’s that writers don’t stop writing by finishing a book. As you say, that’s when we allow all those other plots to percolate to the surface so we can snatch the right one for the next book.

      Writing is it’s own reward–don’t you think? I’m a better person for being a writer, having to analyze motivations, understand other points of view, speak clearly. I don’t think I’d be where I am today without the drill sergeant that is writing.


  7. You didn’t mention one more thing that I know is true of what you’ve learned: it takes so much diligence and an incredibly responsible work ethic to write a novel, one or ten, published or unpublished. You have the strongest, most persistent work ethic of anyone I know. That you’ve procured an agent is a huge achievement. That also came about because of your work ethic and not serendipitous good fortune, folded cookies notwithstanding. Huge difference between jotting notes on a pad or computer and completing a novel, and that one you learned very well.

    Thanks for mentioning the good friends who haven’t the interest to read your unpublished work. I thought I was alone on that one. I’ve found I have so many of those. Even the ones who’ve eagerly offered to read my work, and I’m looking for whole-tome harsh critiques with the intent of then going back and re-writing, apparently didn’t really mean they would actually READ my book. They offered the way one asks how you’re doing and doesn’t stay to hear the answer. Trying to find a beta reader is a matchmaking endeavor.
    Aha – my new job! I’ll yente for writers seeking beta readers!

    So – do I perceive a bit of weariness in your tone? Take a nice little vacation – maybe a drive to Laguna Beach to see dolphins in the surf – and then get back in front of your computer. You know you will. Published or not, you’ll be sparked by your muse and seduced by the ink on your computer keys. Because that’s also something that you learned – you can only stay away for so long – or maybe, for so short.

    Jacqui, thanks for your generous advice and assistance.

    Perhaps Rachel Creager Ireland might like to trade beta readership with me?


  8. Too sick of it, yes, I’m at that stage. Ready to send for self-publishing, but I don’t have even the miniscule amount of money to do what I want, thinking about tossing the whole thing in the river instead. . . and funny about the “friend’s unpublished novel,” I learned that one by experience too! Nice to know I’m not the only one, I was kind of thinking it was some kind of a sign that not even my friends wanted to read it, even after they asked for it.

    But, yes, I woke up this AM and saw how the dream I had would work well in a book I’ve had an idea for. It was one I thought I’d put on the back burner because it seemed more challenging to write and I thought maybe I’d work on my chops with another novel or 2 before I try that one. But I’m getting so many ideas I guess I’ll have to start making some notes, and you know where that leads . . .


    • I had to laugh at ‘start making some notes and you know where that leads’. So true!

      You could publish on Kindle–that’s no cost. I designed my own book covers on my first books and they sold enough to fund a professional for the next.

      It is difficult to move forward when you don’t know where the path is going.


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