Tuesday, March 24, 2020

The Grieving Process & Finishing Your Novel

By Bonnie Randall

Part of The Writer's Life Series 

JH: Writing a novel is a commitment, and when that "relationship" ends, it can be traumatic. Bonnie Randall shares tips and thoughts on dealing with novel grief. 

Truman Capote said “Finishing a book is just like you took your child out into the back yard and shot it.”

Writing a novel is a full-time immersion into an alternate reality within which we live for extensive stretches of time—creating characters who, by our own intense efforts, are as three-dimensional as any flesh and blood person we’ve ever encountered, and settings as vivid as any locale we’ve ever been to.

Naturally, then, we form relationships with the acutely real people and places we create.

Equally naturally, we grieve when those relationships are severed when the last chapter of the book is penned and the story we have also been an invisible—yet orchestral—character in, is finished.

This is a natural process. Grief occurs whenever any loving relationship ends, and it will follow its requisite 5 Stages. As in:

1. Shock

This is the bittersweet stage that happens after you’ve finally pared your project down, edited it multiple times, had it proofed, and it is polished enough to be formatted. Your elation at having conquered such a monumental quest is simultaneously met by a feeling not unlike the kid who, on the first day of summer vacation, still feels like they should be in school. “I should be writing my novel right now,” you think, in those momentary memory lapses when you forget that your project is finished, and that there’s nothing left to write.

Suggestion: Sit in that feeling. Accept and acknowledge the ambivalence of reveling in a job well done with the bereft state of “What do I do now?” You will then move on to

2. Denial

This is where all the doubts start to leak in. You wonder if maybe your novel is not as done as you think. You second guess certain scenes. Certain sentences. Certain words.

Suggestion: Resist the temptation to crawl back into that world. It is finished, and you aren’t considering making changes because you truly think they will serve your story. You’re considering them because they give you an excuse to re-enter that world you love and now miss. As my wise editor once told me: “You can edit any project into infinity. But then when will you write your next story?”

(Here'e more on When Should You Stop Revising?)

3. Anger

This will manifest as frustration as you just cannot seem to dial into your next project. You’re not connecting with the characters. Your enthusiasm has waned. You’re still stuck in your ‘old world’. You might even be attributing traits of your old characters onto your new ones, confusing yourself and not allowing your new characters to have their own, distinct voice.

Suggestion: Step back. Read a book, or many books, by another author, and perhaps even outside of your preferred genre. Engage in another creative pursuit (not writing) that will keep your right brain engaged. Be patient. You will know when your new story awakens, because it is already within you. Let it happen to you, not the reverse.

4. Bargaining

I’ve been known to mash a cameo appearance of a character from my old novel into a new WIP…only to edit it out later because it was only ever there due to how I just could not disconnect from that particular person.

Suggestion: This one can work for or against you, because sometimes those cameos hit a home run with readers who, like you, are in love with your previous characters and are thrilled to see them again. 

Therefore, if the cameo you’ve crafted serves your latest plot? Keep it! Readers will love the Easter Egg and the nod to your previous piece of work. Moreover, if you are determined to keep writing about your ‘retired’ character, then why not hang a few short stories onto your author website, or attach to your Patreon? Better yet, consider creating a series—so long as you have fresh goals, stakes, and plots there is absolutely no reason why this cannot be an option.

But then, once you truly are finished—

5. Acceptance

This is where you still and will always love your story, its setting, and the people you created in it. Yet, you’re also aware that those very elements and devices have at last served their purpose, and you have moved on to new material that you are every bit as invested in as you were with your first, second, third, or one-hundredth story.

And the stories keep coming.

Write on!


Bonnie Randall is a Canadian writer who lives between her two favorite places—the Jasper Rocky Mountains and the City of Champions: Edmonton, Alberta. A clinical counselor who scribbles fiction in notebooks whenever her day job allows, Bonnie is fascinated by the relationships people develop—or covet—with both the known and unknown, the romantic and the arcane.

Her novel Divinity & The Python, a paranormal romantic thriller, was inspired by a cold day in Edmonton when the exhaust rising in the downtown core appeared to be the buildings, releasing their souls. The series continues with her newest release, Within the Summit's Shadow.

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Andrew Gavin knows he's a train wreck. Before he even became a detective, Andrew’s first trauma—at only seventeen—occurred when he witnessed a gruesome suicide. Ever since, a delusion he calls The Dead Boy appears when his anxiety spirals too close to the edge…


Goaded by The Dead Boy, Andrew shoots and kills an unarmed teenage bully in what appears to be a fit of rage. Suspended from the force, and awaiting a possible murder charge, he retreats home to the Rockies. There The Dead Boy taunts him daily. Except…


Elizabeth McBrien, the childhood sweetheart he scorned, is back home in the mountains too, and shocks Andrew by revealing that she too sees The Dead Boy. Astonished that the spirit is not a delusion, but real, Andrew is further unnerved when he learns that The Dead Boy has ‘befriended’ Kyle, a gravely ill kid Elizabeth adores.

Now it's specter vs. cop in a race to save Kyle's life, and The Dead Boy insists that Kyle’s survival hinges on secrets Andrew holds about that long-ago suicide. Yet Andrew knows the entire truth will destroy him, and also annihilate any new chance he may have with Elizabeth. But they are running out of time; Kyle is dying, and The Dead Boy is ready to sacrifice anything in order to once again walk among the living…

Within the Summit’s Shadow is a paranormal romance unlike any you’ve ever read. Set in the resort town of Jasper amid the splendor of the Canadian Rockies, this novel combines love, mystery, and a persistent, deeply psychological, very personal haunting. Randall really delivers the goods with this one.”


  1. Thank you for this post. It’s an excellent reminder. I’ve known the five steps of grieving for over half a century - theoretically and experientially. But until I read your post, I had no idea that that perspective was needed in my present WIP. I’m certain that it’s the element required to move my story along right now. Timing is everything.

  2. Writing's a morbid business. We spend months immersed in these people's lives, desperately trying to capture everything from the rebirth of their dreams to how they pour their morning coffee... and all the while we know it's purpose-built to get them to The End. When they just vanish.

    Or can we bring them back? Is it honest, fair, to find a new trial to put them through -- or better to leave them forever with their (maybe) happy ending?

    (Ohh, is it liberating to have that website of encore stories, as a way to split the difference!)

    In the end, the only things that get us through it are the same as always: knowing we've done it before, and finding the joy of what's waiting next.