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?
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.
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?
- 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.