TTT – Staying Power

Writing a novel is the dream of most writers, but finishing a novel can become the bane of our existence. A novel is a huge commitment, a long haul. It requires stamina, fortitude, and coffee (a LOT of coffee).

Some writers find novel writing a breeze. They sit down at their desks and, by lunchtime, they have a first draft. Okay, that’s not true, but some writers do find it easier than others. Those who don’t always have the same excuse: no time. They don’t have the time to write a novel, don’t have the time to do the research, don’t have the time to edit, don’t have the time to submit. Don’t, don’t, don’t…

[Insert music from a very small violin here]

We all have the time. No one has more of it than anyone else. Twenty-four hours is all we get. The real problem is a lack of staying power.

What is staying power?

Staying power [noun]: the quality or ability that allows someone or something to continue to be effective… for a long period of time (Mirriam-Webster, 2014)

In this instance, staying power refers to the writer’s ability to invest the time and energy required to get from the first word to ‘The End’. A pretty big ask, especially when you think of a novel being between 60,000 and 100,000 words. I typically write for an hour or two every day (longer if I lose track of time), averaging around 600 words. At that rate, the first draft of a short novel would take 100 days to complete.

A hundred days?! But, I have other projects to work on and new ideas to research…and therein lies the problem.

This year, I will be participating in my first ever NaNoWriMo event (in 8 days, to be precise) and my staying power needs are at an all-time high. So, how do we keep ourselves excited and motivated through the novel writing process?

Tips
1. Accept that you’ll have rough patches

You sit down at your desk, notes ready, fingers poised and…mind blank. You’re lucky if you manage twenty words before you give up in frustration. That, my friends, is a rough patch and they happen to all of us. Don’t force the words. If they won’t come, give yourself a break for that day, or better still…

2. Write a different part

This used to trip me up all the time. I’d start writing, have a great idea for a scene mid-way through the book, then I’d stall before I got anywhere near it. If the idea for the scene is persistent enough to be distracting, why not get it out of your system and write it now? Write it and then put it to one side, then get back on with it.

3. Reconnect with your characters/story

During the long haul, we often forget the reasons why we started writing the story to begin with, why we felt so excited at the beginning. Take some time to reconnect with your story, reread your old notes, or talk it through with a sympathetic (writer) friend. If possible, why not experience life through a character’s eyes? Try out their favourite hobby (Note: the author accepts no liability for your actions, so be sensible), visit their favourite place, even eat their favourite food. Any of these things may be enough to re-light that initial spark.

4. Write your book’s blurb (or you award acceptance speech)

We all write for different reasons and, when we’re at our lowest, these reasons are often forgotten. When you feel your mood getting low, do something that reminds you of why you started writing. If your only goal is to see your novel completed, take some time to design the cover and write the blurb. If it’s fame and fortune ye seek (ahem…sorry), write your literary award acceptance speech and then get back to work.

5. Take a break

Absence makes the heart grow fonder, as they say, and sometimes a break is all you need to rekindle your desire. Give yourself some time (two weeks, maybe) where you don’t work on your novel. Pack up all notes and sketches and don’t look at them during that time. When you return to it, it’ll be like the return of an old friend. I find this particularly helpful when I’m stuck in a rut. The time away allows my brain to work the kinks out of the novel and I find I know exactly how to proceed when I get back to it.

Bonus tip
6. Dealing with new ideas

We’ve all done it: sat down to write a story and, BANG, one thousand and one new ideas spring from the mists, each one better than the last and all of them vying for immediate attention. They offer promises of fortune, fame, and other prizes. It’s enough to make you scream. So, what do you do if this happens mid-novel?

That’s easy:

  • Write it down
  • Give yourself a little time (a day/two days) to explore the idea
  • Once the time is up, put all your notes on it away
  • DO NOT REVIEW YOUR NOTES
  • Make yourself a promise to return to it AFTER you’re finished.

Alright folks, I’ve waffled long enough. Does anyone else have any tips for keeping your novel on track? Any methods of resisting temptation? Please put them in the comments below.

Next week: how to write flash fiction

21 thoughts on “TTT – Staying Power

  1. First off, good post! You have some really helpful ideas!

    My advice is when you get hung up on a plot point or are not sure where to go next step away from your computer/ pen and paper/ ink and parchment/ whatever you use!Take a walk and then come back and don’t return to the draft but free write the basic direction you want to go next in your story.

    Literally let the ideas flow…. this means if a new plot point emerges go with it and see what you think. You may NEVER use it or you may see your current hang up in your draft from a different light and suddenly have tsunami of ideas!

    NaNoWriMo is an absolute must for those of us that struggle to get a first draft done! I went for 4 years writing only around 38,000 words and my then over the last two NaNoWriMo events I worked to complete two manuscripts totaling appr. 60,000 words!

    I’m not going to say it is easy but once you finish one manuscript there is some primordial creative beast that can emerge and it seems you learn to stick it out and just write! Good luck to everyone out there in whichever step of the writing process you are in!

  2. Another thing you can do is focus on telling the story in smaller pieces. Focus on sections that have their own arcs or focus on completion of the story in installments. Or in chapters.

    1. Another great tip. Thanks Rose. At the end of the day, a novel is nothing but a collection of interlinking short stories and scenes. Tackling it in small chunks makes the whole seem a little less daunting.

  3. I’m really looking forward to next week. My main problem is the amount of time that gets swallowed up in research. I can’t seem to stop myself. I spent half an hour on googlemaps earlier driving from London to Oxford just so I can recreate an authentic experience. I kid you not. And I’ll only spend a sentence or two on the actual journey.

    My trick is, I think, the same as what J.T. Williams refers to as free writing. I do my whole first draft that way. I sort of direct the action the way I would if I was telling someone about it. I don’t worry about prose unless something good pops into my head.

  4. I’ve found that writing certain scenes when they pop into my head is a great exercise. I may have to rewrite them to fit the book when the time comes, but of all the writing, this is the most fun. My other reminder, which keeps me going, is to think about how much fun the actual writing is, compared to the rewriting, rewriting, rewriting. 800 or so words a day is a good goal! I wish you all the best with NaNoWriMo. I’m looking forward to hearing about your progress. Do you have a book idea in mind?

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