One of the most important things I ever did as a writer was finish my first novel. If you are a novelist, you know what I mean. If you have tried and aborted a novel at least once, you know what I mean.
Finishing your first novel is at the same time the simplest and the most difficult thing you will ever do as a fiction writer. The willpower of going into this unexplored territory is important for a number of reasons, but foremost is confidence. Once you finish a novel, you know you can do it, and that’s huge.
The day I finished my first novel, I became a writer. I thought like a writer, I acted like a writer, and I worked like a writer. Writers finish what they start. It doesn’t matter that I rewrote that novel from scratch a few years later. All that matters is that I finished it.
I’m not sure how many aborted novel attempts I accumulated over my lifetime. I did about 60 pages of one in early high school, and several others over the many years that passed between high school and the day I started the novel I told myself I would finish no matter what.
It’s hard because you are blind. You don’t know how much of your life it can consume. You don’t know about momentum yet. You don’t have a feel for just how long 100,000 words really is. You don’t know about the middle muddles. You don’t know the feeling of being in the homestretch, or the feeling of anticipation and acceleration as you approach the story’s climax. And you don’t know how frustrating the denouement can be when you want to write THE END and there is still more story to tell. Lots of reasons it’s hard to finish a novel, you see.
But, once you finally do finish it, you look back over the path you just walked and realize that all you had to do was keep typing every day, and the novel gets done. Nothing could be easier.
I have now written four complete novels and one novel-in-progress just passed 90,000 words yesterday. (I actually finished five complete novels if you consider I wrote the first novel from scratch twice.) The first one was the hardest. By far, and for all the reasons I listed above.
But, the first one is also the most satisfying in many ways because the first novel is the proof that you can do it, and that’s a psychological edge those who have never written a novel can’t share. The second novel is much, much easier for that reason alone.
It doesn’t matter that the first novel will never be seen by anyone but you, what matters is that it’s done. That’s what separates the writers from the wannabes.