How Do You Know When Your Novel is Done?

Okay, look, I have been searching for several minutes to find out who said this recently, but it is lost somewhere in the Twitter or Tumblr or Instagram void, it might have been Maggie or Victoria or a combination of the two, BUT either Maggie Stiefvater or Victoria Schwab recently said that you know when a novel is finished when you’re only moving around commas or fixing tenses you missed the first eighteen times around or something like that, and I have been thinking about that a lot.

hell it might have been neither of them but they’re my go-tos


I have never experienced that feeling before. And I know that kind of sounds like a dramatic thing to say, so I want to break this down a little in a timeline for you.

I’m currently 27. I started writing at age 11, so about 16 years of writing. At age 16, I completed my first novel (after working on it for almost 2 years). From about age 16-18ish (maybe?), I rewrote that novel 3 times. In full. Like, started over and wrote the entire thing again. I also wrote its sequel in those years 3 times. Despite them being vaguely about the same things, the characters and plot changed so drastically each time, I’m going to count them as separate things. So during those 4 years, I essentially wrote 7 full novels.

I also wrote one that was actually novel-length (the original Ronan books were so small, it’s scary, I didn’t understand how to write a standard-sized book) when I was 14/15, so our tally is up at 8 before I’ve even graduated college.

Alright. I graduated college at age 22 in 2014. In the 5 years since then, I have written the Pen boys 3 times, Mason once, the first & second Saints twice (so 4 total), Saints at sea once, sister witches, and the bookstore boys. Adding that up, 11 novels in 5 years. Remembering, of course, that many of these were rewrites, so I wasn’t recreating a new thing in its entirety. Some of the Saints novels are not entire rewrites, too, so that’s not quite a full novel.

But really, if we look at it, 19 novels in total. This is not meant to be bragging. This is meant to say that I have written 19 novels and never once felt like any of them were done. (Wow, writing sucks, oh my god.) The original Ronan trilogy were legit rewrites. Like, stick the old version in a hidden folder somewhere and never look at it kind of rewrite. I’m still not done with it. I tried writing it again post-college, and it was a hot mess. I got a grand total of 6 chapters in, and apparently I still don’t know how to write a standard-sized novel when it comes to that story.

The Pen boys is also a hot mess, and I’m going to do that same kind of rewrite for it eventually, but even still, when I first wrote it, it was 180k words. I chopped it down to 150k the second time, and really had to do some major work to get there. The third time, I got rid of another 20k, but still, that’s some work. And it’s not freaking done!

I have literally never gone through a novel and thought “ah yes I have no further work to do here.”

Until Saints.

The characters of Hamlet are unable to separate themselves from one another, even in death. We are unable to distance ourselves from those who have been central players in our lives.

To be fair, Saints is a little bit of a different story. I had actual editors for Saints rather than just excited friends or myself reading it. I had people reading it that were also writers and that could help me see where it needed some help. I’ve also gone through Saints so many times, it’s been a little torturous doing it again because I just do not want to read it again. (That doesn’t mean that I’m not still laughing at my own jokes, though. I’m hilarious.)

But, to be fair to myself, as well, Saints is different not just because of who has read it. I put so much work into Saints before I even kind of started it. When I went to see Maggie for her writing seminar, she talked about pre-writing a lot, a term I’d never heard, but apparently was using for this series. I carry a notebook everywhere I go, and the one I had during the beginning of the Saintsverse is full of character sketches, hand-drawn maps, and plot outlines (SO MANY, I have rewritten my plot outlines for the Saintsverse more than any other story before it). When I was gearing up to start Saints 2, I did it all over again. I’ve never done this kind of pre-writing for a novel before. I usually just dive in and have some fun. But, before starting Saints 2, I did character sketches for all the new characters. I outlined the plot again (and again and again).

I think I finally realized, at the beginning of the Saintsverse, that how I was writing wasn’t working. Duh, ya think? 16 years and 19 novels, and I’m just now figuring out that it’s not working. I mean, who dives into a high fantasy novel with absolutely no pre-writing? Morons, that’s who.

I’m not sure when I decided to do things differently for Saintsverse. All I knew was that when I woke up with Landon’s name in my head, he refused to let any words be written until I knew his whole story. And it’s been a minute since that fateful Monday.

It was November 2017 when the name Landon Ash first came to me. I wrote his novel that winter, wrote Alex the Destroyer’s novel right after, and then did a strange thing. Instead of immediately diving into Saints 2, I went back to the first Saints and worked on it some more. Eventually, I did write Saints 2, and since then, I’ve started work on the second duology, getting as far as the second book.

And then this tweet (or whatever it was) came out saying that your novel was well and truly done, as far as you could get it, when you weren’t actually changing things anymore, and I had this moment of just utter despair. I’m STILL not there, I thought. I was starting to wonder if I was ever going to be there. Maybe I’m not cut out for this. I mean, I love it, and I’ve gotten really excellent feedback over the years to prove that I’m good at it, but I couldn’t seem to actually finish anything. Sure, I’ve got 19 novels under my belt, but none of them are done. All of them need so much work.


Somewhere above, I mentioned sister witches and the bookstore boys. Those were both novels that I started toward the end of the year in 2018 and that I got about halfway through before mildly abandoning. I entered this awful limbo where I wasn’t writing, but I was reading a heck ton, and I hated what was happening, so I created Thursday Thousand. (See, there’s a reason you’re getting this post today.) Fine, I said, if I’m going to abandon all my novels, if I’m never actually going to finish anything, then I’ll write short stories. Those have a beginning, middle, and ending.



this is why I’m bad at short stories, THEY’RE NEVER SHORT STORIES

Something, inevitably, started to happen.

I woke up one morning thinking about the ferryman of the dead. (Honestly, who does that? What a weirdo.) Hm, my little brain thought, you know what would be fun? Making the ferryman of the dead a sad boy. Let’s do it. I created the idea of Thursday Thousand, short stories that had to be at least one thousand words and that I had to post every week. It was a way to force myself to write, to get back into the habit, to stop avoiding literally everything I loved. So, I wrote about Charon, I made him a sad boy, and uh, well, that ending was not an ending.

It was a cliffhanger.


Now that I look, it actually took me quite a while to acknowledge that it was a cliffhanger. I mean, I knew that it was, but I was pretending it wasn’t until eight weeks later, when I wrote about Persephone.

Everything’s fine. It’s all good. I’m not pre-writing for a novel. Nahhhhhh.

Here’s the problem: it wasn’t the only one. Now, I’d had the thought of planets as humans for a while, and now that I was writing short stories every week, I was like okay cool I’ll write a character sketch for one of them, no big.



The thing, I was discovering, was that Thursday Thousand was working. I’d very efficiently forced myself out of not writing and back into desperately creating new stories every single week. And then, two solid months since I started this project, I got it in my head that I was going to finish the bookstore boys. Shortly after that, I was like yeah, might as well finish sister witches now.

And suddenly, this kind of weight had lifted. I was back to writing, I had finished a couple of abandoned projects, and I was starting to shift my attention back toward the Saintsverse. I’d gotten about eight chapters into Saints at sea before running away, but I knew that it’d been so long that just diving back in wasn’t going to work. I also knew that there was one character I wanted to fix in the first Saints, change her story a little bit to work more cohesively. So, I decided I’d go back through the Saints duology, spruce them up, and then head back into the Saints at sea duology.

Mind you, I was still thinking about that tweet. You know when your novel is done when you’re not actually changing anything anymore.

You know what would be so cool? I thought quietly to myself, if I could find that feeling, just once. I just want to know what it’s like to finish something.

oh my god these pictures are SO DRAMATIC and SO AESTHETIC but also SO SAINTS I hope you guys love this book it’s dark and sad and full of gay

I opened up the first chapter of King of Saints, and I started reading. I had my Saintsverse music vibe on. I was prepared to dive in and get to work. I was ready for whatever this world still had to throw at me.

But apparently that was nothing?

I, uh–I think Saints is done?

I’m 30 chapters in, and the only things I have changed is Vivian’s character, which I went in intending to do. If I hadn’t wanted to, I wouldn’t have needed to because her character was fine (fine, not good). Sure, there’s been a couple times that I spelled something wrong (locked instead of looked). I’ve screwed up a couple word endings (challenged instead of challenge). I even forgot that often most can just be est and have combined a couple words. (Seriously, who writes most fierce and leaves it that way?)

But actually editing? It’s not happening. It doesn’t need it.

I really, truly feel like someone hit me with a tree.

King of Saints is DONE.

I’m not changing things. I’m moving commas around, sure. I’m fixing verb tenses occasionally. But there’s literally nothing outside of those simple edits that I’ve done. And this is the most startling thing in the world, and also the most eye-opening.

Because Victoria (Maggie?) was right. Your novel is done when you’re no longer moving things around. For the first time ever in my entire writing career, I feel really good about this story. I’m willing to give it out to people just to read, not to edit. I feel confident in it. I feel like I can see it on a shelf, like for real, not just dreaming about it.

It’s done.

I will try, again and again, to remind myself... That it is only I who feels and fears the way I do. That I have control.

I’m really curious if this is going to happen with Saints 2. Maybe I’ll come up with a title finally when I start reading/editing it? Like King of Saints, I’ve got one thing I know that I want to fix. I may have forgotten that one of my characters goes deaf in one ear halfway through, and I may have not at all included that in future chapters with them, so I know I have to fix that. But I’m so curious to see if there’s anything else. I honestly won’t be discouraged if there is because I haven’t gone through that one nearly as many times as the first one. (It’s still been enough that I’m not exactly jumping for joy about reading it again.) But I think it’s possible that Saints 2 might be done, too. I don’t know, we’ll see.

The moral of this story is that I started writing short stories because I wasn’t writing anymore, because I felt like I couldn’t finish anything, that I felt kind of like a failure. And because I’m a novel-writer first, most of my short stories started to turn into pre-writing until I was so wrapped up in the full novel feel that I finished two abandoned projects and went back home to the universe that I love more than anything.

I know what you’re thinking. Oh, so Thursday Thousand is cancelled now, whatever.

Not exactly. But it’s been a little difficult to do all three–write a short story, write a novel, and read regular books. There are seriously not enough hours in the day. And truthfully, a short story only takes up about three-four hours max, but the motivation to write them has waned since I’ve shifted gears back to novel-writing. But I’m not abandoning it entirely. I do think there will still be some weeks where I’m not working on something and I miss the writing vibe, so I’ll drop in for a visit. But at the moment, I am fully immersed in the Saintsverse again, and I want to keep my head there, not dive out every week.

But I am here to tell you that I’ve finished a novel! (How many times have I said that before?) Really, truly finished it. I don’t have to work on it anymore. (Yet. Of course, this is all before I get an agent and they take it apart.) It may take 16 years, but damn it, guys, eventually it happens.

Victoria Schwab (and I know it was her because I witnessed these words come out of her mouth live and in person) once said that overnight successes were usually a decade in the making.

So it’s taken me a little longer than a decade, that’s fine. I finally did it. I finished my book. And I absolutely cannot wait for you to read it.


14 responses to “How Do You Know When Your Novel is Done?”

  1. L.K.Middlebrook Avatar

    Congratulations on your first ‘finished finished’ novel. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. marydrover Avatar

      Thank you! 😀


  2. Margaret @ Weird Zeal Avatar

    WOW, what an accomplishment! Congrats on finishing your novel! This was so interesting reading about your process of getting to that point. I have yet to get anywhere near that point with anything that I’ve written, and I’ll bet it feels amazing.

    Also, you went to Maggie Stiefvater’s seminar too!! All of her wisdom has been SO helpful for me with my current project.

    Good luck with Saints 2!! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. marydrover Avatar

      Thank you so much! It’s still kind of wild to think that it’s really finished. I’m about to wrap up the last chapter, and it just feels so weird not having added or subtracted any words from it.

      Right!!! It was such an amazing seminar, and I feel so lucky to have been able to attend one. I kept having these ah-ha moments the whole time, it was wonderful.

      Thank you!


  3. Jess Kitching, The Good In Every Day Avatar

    Congratulations on finishing your first novel! As someone who has just finished a first draft, I can’t wait for the feeling of thinking ‘no, this is perfect’!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. marydrover Avatar

      Thank you! And good luck to you on your next drafts!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. crazywitch25 Avatar

    Stephen King said that many novelist need to write short stories and not just do the “novel.” Sometimes, the novel isn’t strong enough, or we aren’t ready for it. Anyway, I think your writing is amazing. I wish I had talent. I write, too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. marydrover Avatar

      I agree! Short stories are so helpful, and I very much enjoy writing them–I just always want them to be longer, haha. Aw, thank you!


  5. Hayley Elizabeth Avatar

    I can’t wait either!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. […] 🌳 Mary Drover discussed how you know when your novel is done, including her own experience with completing a novel (CONGRATS). […]


  7. theorangutanlibrarian Avatar

    Congrats on finishing! I do really get what you mean here- I think this rule of thumb makes a lot of sense. I really relate to having written and rewritten quite a few books that just aren’t there yet, but the ones I’m done with definitely fall under this category (somewhat inconveniently one’s a novella and the other’s a sequel… so not the best position to be in 😉 still hopefully I’ll be properly done with some other of my WIPs soon and I’ll know how to spot it this time! 😉 ) It’s amazing that Saints is done and you must feel so proud! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. marydrover Avatar

      Thank you! It’s such an odd place to be, but also a very relieving one.

      Oh, you totally will, and I can’t wait to someday read them when they’re gracing shelves!


  8. The Ultimate Book Tag! – Mary and the Words Avatar

    […] Gods willing, I’ll be published someday. I have a tag on the blog where all of my writing can be found, and if you’re curious about what I’m currently working on, check out my current projects post. I also chatted quite a bit about my writing journey in one of my more popular posts, How Do You Know When Your Novel is Done? […]


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