There is a profusion—nay, a glut, an excess, a veritable avalanche of books and instructors out there who will help you get started writing a novel.

I myself contributed to this surfeit with my book, imaginatively titled Get that Novel Started.  I was so grateful for having overcome my own writer’s block with the help of a compassionate teacher that I wanted to spread the joy.  I also wanted to pass on what that first teacher had drummed into my head: just get that first draft written.

This is the best advice one can give a beginning novelist, the sine qua non, if you will, without which no novel is written, any more than a car can drive without an engine or a wooden shack can be built without wood.

My fellow author Elizabeth Stark calls the first draft the “discovery draft,” which name I love, because it sums up the process in such a positive and pithy way.

Recently, however, I’ve been contemplating a different stage.  While getting started is the first and possibly the most difficult step, another sink hole lies ahead, ready for an approaching novelist to fall into, sometimes never to been seen again.

Getting finished.

This obstacle has been around since hammers and chisels, but being as self-absorbed as I am, I’ve only taken notice recently, as a few novelists who are also good friends are teetering on the edge of the sinkhole in question.

My pal Jennifer (her real name is Ivy Crackenthorp, but who would believe that?) has been working for several years on a domestic drama.  (“Domestic drama” is chicklit for the middle-aged).  During this time, her two main characters have remained essentially the same but the plot is a shape-shifter the likes of which has not been seen since Iman in Star Trek VI.

Jennifer is an excellent writer.  But just as being in love isn’t always enough to make a marriage work, being an excellent writer isn’t always enough for a novel.

Of course most writers stop discovering (and stop rewriting) far too soon.  But for those in danger of falling into the “I’m still learning what this novel is about” trap, I would like to reference Ecclesiastes.  Just as there is a time to be born and a time to die, there is a time to start and a time to finish.  At least one has some control in the latter case.