In Search of a Writing Ritual

I finished my book this week. I typed “The End” and it was done. It’s not finished by any means. It’s not even ready to go to my copy editor yet. But as far as telling the story? It’s over.

When I hit the halfway point, I was energized and ecstatic and predicted that finishing the whole thing would feel like a rocket launch/wedding day/21st birthday combined. But as I got closer to the end a sense of foreboding grew. I wanted to finish, but yet I didn’t. I finished Chapter 9 just before leaving for a Disneyland vacation with my husband and all three kids. When I got back I didn’t pick the book up right away. All told I took ten days off from writing. And then I busted out two chapters and 10,000 words in a single week.

Last Friday I was so close to the end that I didn’t think I’d be able to take the weekend off. But I did. And then I finished the book on Monday in the middle of the day. And then cried for about ten minutes. And moped for a couple hours more. Then I went to the comic book store and bought myself some comics and a Wonder Woman figurine. I felt an emptiness. Joseph Campbell would say that it was my soul longing for a ritual, a rite of passage.

Looking at movies, what are some End of Novel rituals?


In “Misery”, Sonny (James Caan will always be Sonny Corleone to me) lights up a cigarette. Good one, but I actually quit smoking a week before starting this novel.


In “Romancing the Stone” Kathleen Turner weeps as she writes the final scene of her novel. She celebrates by dressing up her cat’s food with a sprig of parsley. Yes, I cried a bit, but Jesus Christ I’m not some spinster romance writer. This comes closest to the truth for me, but DO NOT WANT.


In “Stand by Me” Richard Dreyfuss writes his final lines about never having friendships like you do when you’re twelve, shuts off the computer and takes his kids swimming. Kinda meh, but also pretty close to my reality. No fanfare, no champagne and confetti. Just getting on with it.

I need a ritual. My writer friends admonished me to put away this book for a couple weeks before I start revising it. So I think I’m going to start writing the sequel and I want something more satisfying than a crying jag and a comic book at the end of it.


  1. Get on a plane and come party with an old friend in the sun >8) Thats a good way to celebrate 🙂
    Seriously though you do need something to seal the deal – maybe a frothy silly cocktail with an umbrella and a sparkler in it LOL
    Some fantasically decadent or exotic chocolate in place of that cigarette – eat and drink all that while wearing a feather boa and a tiara LOL

  2. Wow. I’m working on my own book now — turning my blog posts into a book chronicling my crazy life, post-divorce — and I can’t even imagine how it will feel to be “done.”

    I also suspect a bit of self-sabotage going on…I should be done by now, but it represents such finality to actually put it all together and send it off. So I procrastinate. A lot. (But I have a MIGHTY clean house, I must add…)


    Congrats to you on your “done”ness! 🙂

  3. This may sound cliché, but I like to have a nice glass of wine after a particularly productive day of writing. It’s become sort of a ritual over the years. I’ll take my wine onto the porch if the weather is nice.

  4. When I’m working on a novel, I avoid reading other people’s novels — so that I don’t unconsciously pick another writer’s voice. So when I finish a book, I celebrate by reading one of my favorite novels — The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ask the Dust by John Fante, and A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Tool are at the top of my list. To celebrate, I also enjoy going for long walks by the water, taking a train ride to a new place, eating ice cream, going to movies, and doing lots of other things I didn’t do while I was working on the book.

  5. Hm that’s a good idea. I suppose it depends on what you want to feel when you’re finished. Do you want to contemplate what you’ve just written? Maybe grab a glass of wine, sit outside, open the book at random and read snippets to yourself. Maybe you’re sick of looking at your own writing (like I am sometimes) and just want to celebrate being done with it, so… throw an end-of-book party! Dress up fancy maybe. I don’t know, just throwing things out there. I need to write a book now so I can have a reason to come up with my own end-of-book ritual…

  6. You’ve exhausted the creative right side of your brain, need to give it a rest, and allow the left, more analytical side to get the blood flowing. I recommend a numbers game where you count backwards from 100, one number at a time, until you reach single digits. Did I mention using a shot glass and the spirit(s) of your choice? Congratulations on a wonderful accomplishment! And don’t despair, Hemmingway only made it to the mid-seventies before passing out.

  7. Don’t forget Jack Nicholson when he finishes writing in As Good As It Gets. Gotta love Jack! Of course, I don’t recommend any of the rituals THAT character had. 😉

  8. Treat yourself to a massage! Great way to let go of some of the stress and tension from writing.

  9. Congrats. I think a day at the spa, after school starts. So much of the gratification is in the process, and then in the feedback, thought, that even as you lie on the massage table with yogurt on your face, you’ll be either brainstorming the sequel or fantasizing about glowing book reviews. Allowing yourself time for that might be all you need.

    1. This is by far the most interesting–and sound–advice among all of these comments.

  10. Well done! You finished it. It probably just hasn’t hit you yet. Maybe you should consciously start a ritual just to have it completed in your mind. It reminds me of a lot of things you do in life that we’re so heavily invested in and when it’s over, it’s anti-climatic. Maybe it’s just that. This will sound corny, but maybe it’s more about the journey you made. I think your ritual should be as simple as doing something you enjoy and have that be your ritual every time. Treat yourself to something special. Something you normally wouldn’t do.

  11. I think society sets us up for rituals. Starting with birthdays, and then going on to high school graduation, wedding, and not to mention funeral. So when things don’t go out with a big BANG it is then that we get sad.

  12. Lovely Post!

    Maybe you should go a specific restaurant (probably your favorite), and get a specific meal (probably your favorite again 🙂 ) each time. Order something small to eat–maybe something that takes 20 minutes, in a place where you can stare absently out of an window w/o it being weird. And then crying to yourself tears of joy, because you did it! 🙂

    Adieu, scribbler

  13. You’re right, you do need a ritual, e.g. a ceremony of faux solemnity. I too quit smoking (in 1977) but my ritual is to smoke a cigar, which is a ritualistic experience anyway, if done right. Too bad the ritual doesn’t assure publication…

  14. Virginia was said always to become chronically (or do I mean acutely?) depressed whenever she finished a novel. This is a ritual that I would like to give a miss to. Unfortunately for having many moments of relaxation in which to worship myself a little for doing so much hard work and finishing it, I’ve found that the only way not to get a little down-hearted at the end of one project is to start dreaming up stuff for another (you can still have a fancy cocktail like shelley above suggests, just to help you “think”!). That’s all I’ve got, sorry! Congrats on Freshly Pressed!

  15. Sorry, I was talking about Virginia Woolf above, not “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” Virginia. She wasn’t really a personal friend of mine!

  16. I finished my novel this morning!
    I went and got coffee, then went to work. Well, maybe in today’s world, it is ritual to blog about it. Funny I just saw this, because I JUST posted about finishing my novel on the blog.
    Good luck with the query process!!
    The real celebration comes when you snag an agent and sign a contract with a publisher.

  17. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed!

    Personally, I always do my best thinking and my best writing while travelling somewhere, ideally on a train. Trains are great because (unlike while driving) you can’t escape! Planes probably more so. And so, to really clear your mind, I’d prescribe sitting on a train for a few hours – not necessarily to get somewhere, just for the experience of going there and back again. Maybe when you return you’ll feel all the more invigorated and ready to start the extensive process of editing! And you never know what kind of adventure you could have on the way…

  18. I felt very much the same after finishing my script. It was some sort of feeling like somone has passed away – as I was writting daily for sometimes a couple of hours and then everything was just over, I seriously missed the time I usualy would have spend with my made up characters. To me they just seemed pretty much real and alive and then it was over. Started planning the sequel immediately because I couldn’t stand it 😉

  19. Something very special you are able to do only when you reach a goal. Special bottle of wine? Dye your hair purple? Re-read a special book/comic book that will get your mind off your current work, so you can return to it fresh? I recommend the comic book “Johnny the Homicidal Maniac” by Jhonen Vasquez. That bastard makes me laugh my ass off. I am not a violent person per se, but I am a huge fan of escapism.

  20. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed 🙂 I really liked this post, because I could relate to the feeling of being so close to being done (well, as done as a first draft can get anyways) and yet feeling all of a sudden there’s a billion things left to be said.

    I got really emotionally attached to the main character of my first novel (which now peacefully sits, unedited, in a box in the basement, waiting for me to rediscover it in 20 years) and had a little heartbreak when I was done, possibly because I killed most of his family and friends.

  21. Do what I did in the hospital after I gave birth: ask to be waited on hand and foot, ask for a frozen yogurt, and watch “Enter the Dragon” with Bruce Lee, then see what happens.

  22. For me, it’s usually a very long nap in the middle of the day followed by a night into morning bout of Netflix streaming (either a full season of Xena: Warrior Princess, or Star Trek: Voyager; all 13+ eps back-to-back). Escape is what I crave.

    Having ‘been away’ from RL deeply enmeshed in my novel’s world, for some reason, upon completion, it makes me want to get even farther away once I’m done writing. Coming back to real life never works for me.

    Congrats on your first draft. Heaven isn’t it?

  23. I’ve finished a few novels, but none are at the publishable stage. My ritual is to sit there and stare at the computer for a long time in shock. All this work has at least some sort of an end. Then, much like you, I go on with life because life keeps moving, and I’ve got other things to do.
    What I enjoy, actually, is printing out a copy for proofreading/editing/critiquing. I find a ridiculous picture that only slightly fits the novel and use that as a ‘cover.’ It’s a satisfying moment to see the physical manifestation of one’s work, no matter how flawed.

    Congrats on finishing! That by itself is an accomplishment.

  24. I go through a roledex of celebration rituals whenever I complete a project. When I finished the first draft of a novella I was working on a few months ago I had the distinct urge to marathon the entirety of SG-1. As in, all ten seasons worth. I gave up a few seasons in, but it was a good run while it lasted.

    Congrats! And, best of luck with the rest of the process. 🙂

  25. Congatulations on you outstanding achievement. Sincerely.

    I just started to write my very first novel. Not really looking forward to get published and/or in every bookstore under a Best Seller sign, but merely pursuing a personal dream and a goal of a lifetime. I guess I would choose to open a bottle of red wine and having a person I love, to read the novel out loud for me once finally done. That would probably be the best possible ritual to celebrate my own book. Then again, who knows? I might also get all pages into a Zip-Loc and throw it down deep into the Thames wishing for someone to find it so I can get instant fame!

    You shall pick one. 🙂

  26. I love to paint. That way I am still using the creative side of my brain but at the same time (and because I know I’m not an artist) I can release the paint onto the paper any way I feel like, a way to release myself onto the paper and get it all out.

  27. Hi, and congratulations 🙂

    I am not writing a novel just yet, I hope to one day. I’m thinking about what its going to be about. I have several ideas just none have got me yet if you know what I mean.

    I also have only just recently got back into writing, it was something I did all the time while I was growing up but life took over and for many years I never gave writing any time. I would try to write but nothing. I was having life issues as such so time and energy were very low.
    Personal life is better now, different in every way and even though it was not good, I was made redundent last year and it had been the best thing to happen to me really. I am getting to know me again, and writing is me and I had forgotton it for a long time.
    I have been looking at my local collage at writing courses so I can learn my craft 🙂

    Reading this about your achivement is really inspiring as I know what you mean with the feeling you get when you are half way and when you finish something you have been working on, it is christmas, 18th, 21st, you name it all rolled into one 🙂

    Good luck with it all 🙂

  28. For me the enjoyable part of the books I write is the process of writing them. When I file the MS with my publishers, that marks the end of that process – but it is also a beginning because it marks the start of the publication/editorial work, followed by the promotions and so forth. The book gains a life of its own once it is in the stores; there are reviews, comments, sales figures and so forth. Even books I wrote 20 years ago retain that life. From this perspective, the ‘end of the writing part’ is simply a step. As for doing something to mark that step? I think the Dreyfuss example pretty much sums it up.

  29. Completing that finger marathon feels like winning a gold medal. You feel on top of the world and extremely proud of yourself. I’m always talking about people and how I feel everyone has a story inside them… great to see people getting the story out. Good work – I will look forward to reading the finished product 😉 – GP

  30. I know what you mean. I need a ritual for when I finish something. Typing “The End” is such a let-down. It seems like it should be triumphant, with fireworks and an agent banging on my door. Mostly it’s just — “now, what?”

  31. I’m writing as well and I’m right around the half-way point. I was having a block until very recently and am happy to have the writing flowing again. Congratulations on finishing!

  32. Congratulations on finishing!! And 10,000 words in a week! Whew, good work!
    For me, I sat back and immediately started thinking about all the things that were wrong with my book, but then I took a deep breath, sat back, and may or may not have eaten an entire cake.

  33. It’s been four days since I finished and I was miserable for three of them. Today I feel fantastic. I started writing the sequel. 🙂 Thank you everyone for the great ritual suggestions and the empathy. It’s so great to know there is such a large and supportive community of writers out there!

  34. Congratulations!

    I’m writing a novel a month for the year because I’m nuts, but I’m learning that the feeling of being a bit deflated at the end is par for the course. My rituals vary, but they usually involve a few dozen drinks, a day or two away from thinking about writing, and some quality time with the boyfriend where I don’t constantly talk about how annoying my characters can be.

    Regardless of what you do, I agree that taking time away from the draft is important. Starting on a sequel is a great way to carry on with the writing momentum.

    Again, congratulations on the first draft! Keep writing!

  35. I’ve just started writing my story. I’m still really new at this so there is no routine – just trying to avoid getting distracted by irrelevant thoughts and emotions. Those are my biggest obstacles. Must. Focus. Hehe.

    Enjoy! 🙂

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