For this post, we’re going to go a different route, in which all hopes of a comfortable novel writing experience are crushed under the merciless thumb of realism. I’ll cut to the point quickly: you are not going to finish a perfect novel in a month.
When I started writing Hubris, I was hopeful that I would be done in a couple of months at the most. After all, I had a great idea, I knew where I wanted to go with my story, and I had already done enough research to give me plenty of storylines to follow. I aimed for 80,000 words at the time, and when I wrote my first 2,000 words for my first chapter, I figured this would be a breeze. If I wrote 2,000 words in one day, it would logically only take me 40 days to reach my goal. Giving myself room to have some “off” days and do rewrites, I believed I would be done within 3 months.
But here’s the thing about writing; you don’t do it on a schedule, even when you do. I tried to write 2,000 words a day, but I went from being unemployed and almost homeless, having to move from place to place in a couple of years to working 16 hours a day and having to write some of my chapters on my morning and evening train rides to and from my two jobs. You can imagine that it was much harder to hit that 2,000-word mark when you’re freezing in a house that has no heat during the winter or walking all around a hot, busy city during the summer.
Maybe your life isn’t quite that dramatic, but there’s an important part that nobody takes into consideration when you sit down to write a novel: life is going to happen. You are not going to finish that book as quickly as you would like. Why is this so important that I’ve dedicated a whole blog post to it? Because it’s important to understand that, while you may not be able to finish that novel quickly, you can finish it. It took me a year and a half to complete Hubris, but it’s done, and Nemesis, the sequel, is nearly finished. I would love to say that Nemesis was finished much quicker, but it’s actually the opposite; writing it while trying to learn how to market a book and push Hubris into the hands of eager readers have made the process much longer.
It has, however, been an incredibly educational endeavor that has taught me lessons about finishing a book—lessons that I have been struggling with since I was an 8-year-old sitting down with her typewriter, intent on writing a story and getting bored with it after a couple of scenes. While my second book is taking me longer, there is entirely no doubt in my mind that I will actually finish it. It is certain that it will not go in the way of many stories before, where I just gave up and chased the next idea. This is a nice perk of finishing one book: you know it can be done, so you’re more inclined to do it again. With that said, here are some tips that nobody ever tells you about novel writing and how to finish one.
You Will Not Write Every Day
It doesn’t matter how you really, really, really intend to stick to your writing this time. You will sometimes be too tired. You will sometimes be too sick. You will sometimes have too much laundry. And, more often than not, you will sometimes not be inspired enough. I cannot stress this enough: this is absolutely fine.
Your goal shouldn’t be efficient, it should be realistic. If you don’t hit that daily goal, you’re more likely to lose confidence and give up. Instead, have a soft daily goal and a hard weekly goal. For example, I have a soft daily goal of one chapter and one blog post a day. This is mainly to help with my weekly goal, which is four of each a week. If I don’t follow through on my daily goal one or two days, that’s fine, because those daily goals are just incentive: if I keep at them for four days in a row, I can slack off for the rest of the week, as all of my writing is done, and my weekly goal is achieved.
It’s also important to know that writing is not the only thing you’ll be doing for your novel. If you can’t find the inspiration to write, do something else. Work on a cover or revisit your social media for your book. It is an excellent idea to have a social media outlet set up that you intend to use for your book before it’s even written. This will help reach out to people to get them interested so that they buy your book upon its release. This is something I wish I had known before I had released Hubris, as getting people excited about it after the release is a little more difficult. There are plenty of things that you will need to prepare for, and you can use the days of non-writing to do so.
You Will Not Always Feel Motivated by Your Story
A problem that writers run into is feeling less than enthused about their ideas. The first time they feel that they aren’t that crazy about where their plot is right then, they convince themselves that the plot must not be worth writing about, and they discard it for a new plot that seems so much more enticing. As Admiral Ackbar warns us so wisely, it’s a trap! That shiny new idea is going to appear dull and tedious later. That’s a part of writing that most people aren’t prepared for; many people think that, even if they’re having trouble with a scene or deciding what should happen next, they’ll still love their story idea. You won’t. You won’t actually hate it, either, if you really pay attention to how you’re feeling about it. Often, it isn’t the story that the author dislikes, but the direction of the story.
If you have never read Stephen King’s On Writing, I cannot recommend it enough. King suggests only having a loose idea of a plan for your characters and playing it by ear. One particular piece of advice that made all of the difference between Hubris being the first book I ever finished and Hubris being the umpteenth book I threw away in the discarded ideas pile was this: if you’re stuck on a scene, ask yourself, “what if?”. Take the characters down an entirely different road you were planning on. What if the plan didn’t work? What if this character isn’t who they said they are? What if they’re caught by the antagonist unexpectedly? I used this method throughout my writing, and it helped to get me through stalled chapters in which I have had no idea how to get my characters from the point I was at to the point I had carefully planned for them. This required re-writing of my original storyline, which is why it’s a good idea to keep the storyline loose and fluid. The critical thing to remember is that it’s really not the end of your story if you don’t like where it’s at currently. Change it. Surprise yourself. Make yourself consider your characters in a new light. Put them in a situation that you weren’t expecting and see how they react. But, whatever you do, don’t give up your whole novel over one uninspired moment.
You Will Hate What You Write
While this isn’t a big secret, it always seems to take writers by surprise, nonetheless. You will write paragraphs, chapters, multiple chapters that you absolutely hate. You will convince yourself that you have no talent whatsoever, that if this chapter is this bad, they must all be this bad. Here’s the thing that people often forget: nothing is right the first time around. Take comfort in knowing there will be a long, drawn-out, mind-numbing, painful editing process that will make your story go from an awful collection of words lined up together to a fantastic jewel that will please readers every time.
That editing process is the reason your novel will not be done quickly because it is far too long a process for anybody’s enjoyment, but it’s where the story is polished, reworked and reshaped. Right now, you are merely laying the foundation with your first draft. Consider, you would probably not pay millions of dollars to live in a drab arrangement of cinder blocks, but you probably would spend millions of dollars (if it were an option) to live in an elegant mansion. That ugly foundation is a must to get that beautiful mansion. Your awful rough draft is a must to get your amazing novel. Just like you wouldn’t expect a construction company to stop halfway through a house because they hate the cinder blocks, you shouldn’t stop halfway through your novel because you hate the rough draft.
The only way to get to the next step is to finish your draft. You may hate every word you’re writing but write them regardless. Get through the ugly phase so you can get to the beautiful finish.
You Will Compare Yourself to Other Writers
Pick your favorite writer. Their stories went through the aforementioned ugly phase, too. They made grammatical mistakes and sentences that made no sense and wrote a description that fell flat and had conversations that sounded contrived. Because, again, that’s what the first part of writing always looks like.
The good news is that many of your favorite writers have at least made statements on their writing process. Look them up, see if they have any advice for you. If they have books about writing, read them. Most importantly, don’t assume that their input is for everybody but you. Take their advice to heart and remind yourself that they started out entirely out of their depth and overwhelmed, just like you feel now. Writing a novel is a huge, daunting task that makes you feel small and incapable, no matter how much you’ve loved writing in the past. I have yet to see an accomplished writer that said they had no problems loving their writing. Just recently, Neil Gaiman talked about dealing with imposter syndrome, a term used for the feeling that a highly praised person’s accomplishments aren’t indicative of their skill level and that they’ll soon be exposed as a fraud. Every writer believes that they don’t measure up to real writers and that they have just been lucky.
There’s no one-stop solution to getting a novel finished, but there are prevalent issues that stop writers from completing it. Identifying these usual culprits help you move past the worst part. Once you finish your first novel, it becomes something that is more reasonable to expect again and again. The important part is to stick to it, even if it doesn’t happen quickly.
What are the obstacles you face when trying to finish your story? How have you worked through obstacles in the past? Leave a comment and let others know!