What does it feel like to finish writing a novel?

Strange and wonderful, mixed with emotions and words I haven’t named yet. I’ve been asked this question quite a few times, and it usually sends me into a rambling spiral. When I started my first novel (well, my first finished novel), I was living in Lindsay, and I was writing so I could survive and get out of it. I was filled with all these visions and observations and these stories started forming, and I scribbled them everywhere I went. I wrote on scrap pieces of paper and I wrote in oversized spiral sketchbooks. I typed them on a computer that was slowly falling apart, and would sometimes lose its memory and lose what I had written. I would save my draft every five minutes or so, to capture each change and each new word, and still, sometimes things would get lost. I had to write down the word count each time I took a break from typing, and if the screen showed me a different number next time I opened the file, I would have to search for what had gone missing and try to write it again.

I finished the novel a few months ago, a year after moving back to Guelph. I wasn’t sure if I would ever finish it, but I knew I had to. There were so many frustrations in the process. There were times when I couldn’t work on it for months, and there were times when I worked on it everyday. I learned that I cannot write by trying to force myself to work on a project for eight hours everyday as though it were a full-time job, but that I do often need to force myself when I feel like I am somehow “not in the mood” for writing. Sometimes forcing myself to write puts me in the mood for writing. I had to learn some tricks. Like telling myself to write for just five minutes – those five minutes would often lead to ten more minutes, another hour, a whole afternoon. Or sometimes it would just be five minutes, and that was enough.

The novel changed a lot, too. I did begin with a plan, character sketches, a setting, some sort of “plot”, just like they taught me in school, every story needs to have these pieces. But those things change, and sometimes, stories don’t start out the way you thought they were going to, they don’t end the way you thought they were going to, those pieces fit together differently than you’d imagined. The novel I began in 2009 is radically different than the novel I completed in 2011. I fell in love my characters, I wanted them to be my friends, and now I sort of miss them in a way. I think about them everyday, even though their stories have ended.

I felt exhausted when I was done, and elated and grateful and tired. And ready to move on to something else. And then I felt like I needed to take a break from writing altogether. The novel had taken over my life.

My sister and my friend Dave edited it for me. I printed a copy for each of them, gave them red pens and instructions. ‘Tell me if this makes sense. Tell me if their voices suit their personalities. Tell me if this is a story you would buy if you stumbled upon it at a bookstore.’ Blah blah blah… Sharing it was scary. Two hundred pages, 70,000-ish words. Scary but necessary.

Now I just feel done with it. I want it to exist in a form that folks can hold in their hands. I am impatient. I want this project to be complete, I want to share it, and I want to move on.

The actual publishing process scares me. I sort of know the ins and outs of it, I’ve been researching this stuff for a decade it seems, but it is a process I have not actually gone through myself, and I now I need to learn. I might be spending my winter with submissions and deadlines and cover letters and REJECTIONS and all sorts of things. And I’m looking forward to it, yes, but as I said, I am also impatient. I want this book to exist with a cover and thank you’s and all that fancy book stuff right now.

In the meantime, if you are a publisher, or you have awesome connections with one, talk to me. If you wanna help me publish a novel about growing up strange and queer in a small town and finding ways to survive and not give up, and dealing with stuff like shyness and alcohol and sexual assault and girl friendships, oh my gosh, please talk to me.

Novellingly Yours,

P.S.: If you’ve benefited from my writing in any way – if my words have inspired you, helped you feel less alone, or sparked some weird feeling within you; if you’ve felt encouraged, or curious, or comforted – please consider compensating me by offering a donation of any amount. Whether you’ve been reading my writing for years, or just stumbled into me this afternoon, I invite you to help me sustain the process!

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