I've been there. I know that paralyzing fear of having the project you've devoted the last three years of your life to suddenly be completed. Your hands are idle. Your thoughts vacant. You maybe nitpick at a few words, change some punctuation, but this can't go on forever. You're only avoiding the inevitable.
So what in the world are you supposed to do now? Well, I'll tell you!
First, you tell all those whom you hold dear that you've finished a novel! That's a huge accomplishment!!! And maybe if you're lucky, you'll get a dinner out or an awesome cookie cake from your mom.
Next you take a break. Not from writing completely, heaven forbid! But don't open that word document. You've done the hard work of creating it, now it's time to let your novel marinate a little bit. Trust me, it will be more beneficial for both you and your novel if you don't keep returning to it day after day and changing those microscopic details.
Finally after a few months of separation, open that novel up. Read through it again and resist the urge to edit. If you must, make notes of things you want to change as you go using a notebook or the track changes tool. Congratulations! You've achieved perspective. And it seriously feels like a superhero power. I can't count the number of times I've read a sentence or paragraph that I don't even remember writing. When it's good, relish the moment:
Wow, nice word choice!
*Sniff sniff* that scene was so beautiful, and tragic.
Man! That was some good dialogue!
After your first read through, then you may go crazy editing. Because some things are bound to have changed. That scene that you thought was the best thing you've ever written suddenly doesn't seem to fit in. Save it somewhere else, but get rid of it. As William Faulkner said, "In writing, you must kill all your darlings." If it doesn't fit, it doesn't stay.
If writing a novel was a piece of cake, then the actual writing part is the frosting and the editing is the cake. Editing takes time and lots and lots of effort. In my own experience, I spent a year writing a novel and three years editing it. For some tips on editing, check out my post in January: "Novel, We Need To Talk: Tips for Editing."
After a while you'll fall into a rhythm with your editing and just like that, it's over. Now your novel really is done. I mean, potentially you could keep working on the same novel forever and ever but who wants to do that? It's time to let go. And that means...it's time for publishing!!!
Writing a novel is one of the most gut-wrenching and rewarding things I have ever done. And the journey still continues as I dive into the publishing world in an attempt to find a good home for my precious little work of art. In the meantime, I get to start fresh with a new idea, a new blank page, and a chance to do it all over again.