Yesterday I finished the first draft of my third novel. Well, it's not really finished. I left a few blank spaces at the beginning of the book because I didn't start writing until last July and it's due in March and I was anxious to get the thing rolling. So now I have to go back to the beginning and fill in what's missing. But the important thing is, I've written the last sentence. And I added "THE END!" on the last page of the manuscript.
I had fun writing it. I write science thrillers because those are the books I liked when I was a kid -- The Andromeda Strain, The Terminal Man. But I also like mysteries and literary novels, and I love Stephen King and Lee Child and J.K. Rowling, and when I'm in the midst of writing a novel I often face the temptation of abandoning the whole difficult enterprise and reading someone else's book for a while. So I have to be very strict with myself. I tell myself, "If you want to finish this novel, you have to make it the most interesting thing in your life. Writing this book has to be more interesting than any show on television or any article in the New York Times or any movie that's playing." I didn't always succeed, but there were many mornings when I tossed the newspaper aside and thought, "This is boring. I'd rather work on the book."
But my favorite part is writing the last sentence. I love that moment. And I bet lots of novelists feel the same way. Now I finally know how the story will end. The uncertainty was really bothering me. I worked on these characters for seven months, spending just as much time with them as I spent with my family, and for most of that time I didn't know what was going to happen beyond the next chapter. I had a vague goal in mind but no idea how to get there. I would come home at night and tell my wife, "God, I don't know what Jim's gonna do. He's really in trouble." And she would say, "Who are you talking about? Are you talking about your characters again?"
Now the last puzzle piece is in place. I don't know if it's any good. In all likelihood, many sections of the manuscript are confusing or boring or wildly implausible (or all three) and my editor will advise me to rewrite huge chunks of it. But that's okay. During the revision process I'll try to make the story more sensible and entertaining for the reader. But at this point it makes sense to me.
Mark Alpert, a contributing editor at Scientific American, is the author of the international bestselling thriller Final Theory and its sequel, The Omega Theory, which comes out this month (see www.markalpert.com for more information). His third novel, which has no title yet, will be published next year.