When it comes to novel writing, or in fact completing any book, getting to The End is a labour of love. And in some ways, it’s that labour of love that separates those of us that want to write a book, from those of us that actually do. The commitment to completing a large project with very little (or zero), external validation, is not to be underestimated. There is no guaranteed reward, interest, or publication. The motivation has to come from deep inside you. You have to really want it.
There are some major progress killers in novel writing, and being aware of these from the outset will help you move forward when things get difficult. Writing a novel is a long term project. If you can see it through to the end, it will be a boost to your self-belief and will add fuel to the idea of you being a writer. Consistency is your biggest ally. Keep writing. Even when you don’t feel like it.
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Forget About Judgement
Fear of what people will think is perhaps the most paralysing fear of all. If you allow it to, this fear will alter your writing style, prevent you from getting your work out there, and turn you into the kind of person that mumbles with embarrassment about maybe writing a novel one day. Don’t allow that to happen. If you are constantly worried about judgment (from your mum, grandmother, friends, or just the public at large), then you are not focusing on what matters.
What matters is writing from the heart. The world is a big place. Just because aunty Ethyl and your sister think that what you write is boring/rubbish/weird, doesn’t mean that 6 billion other people will feel the same. In fact, it’s entirely likely that out there in the world your writing will speak to people you have never met and fill their hearts with joy. The people whose lives you are going to touch with your words will not be able to find you if you’re too busy focusing on what your friends think of your work to complete it.
Put the fear of judgement aside. You don’t have to share your writing, but if you can accept criticism without going home and crying into your pillow, it will provide you with valuable feedback. Not everyone’s criticisms are correct, but do listen with an open mind. Try to accept what they didn’t understand, or found confusing, or didn’t like. Feedback provides clues to what you could improve. And all of us can improve, no matter how much we have written before.
Another huge issue with actually completing a novel is lack of consistency. It’s very easy to start off in a rush of enthusiasm, but then find that waning as times goes on. Better ideas come into your head. Your original idea loses its shine.
Consistency means that even when you don’t feel like it, you need to keep working. In an ideal world, you would write daily. But if you can’t manage that, then at least commit to three or five days a week, schedule a slot, and make sure you show up. Writing does not get done if you don’t sit down and do it.
In fact, if you can put the fear of judgement aside, your consistency is the biggest indicator of whether or not you will get to The End. If you maintain consistency, you will arrive. Regardless of what else happens.
Consistency has power in it. Use it.
Commit To The Distance
Writing a novel takes a long time. Especially if you are doing it around other commitments.
Let’s say, for example, that you write four days a week. Life is busy, and you’re working or parenting, or both, so your time is going to be minimal. You might write for an hour each session, and assuming you write for most of that time, allowing thinking time, you might get down 700 words. Your novel will want to be in the region of 80,000 words, give or take. So that means that already, just to get a first draft, you’re looking at around 114 days of writing. In weeks, at four days a week, that’s 28 weeks. Don’t forget about holidays, illness, or weeks where things just don’t go according to plan. Bump it up to 32 weeks.
And then there is editing. Your first draft will require re-reading and a decent amount of rework. That could be another 15-20 weeks.
So that’s a year gone. And you didn’t do any research, have any writing blocks, experience any bad days, or delete any chapters because they were rubbish.
Can you see where I’m going with this? You should blank out a year to get to the end of your first draft, and accept that what you are taking on is a big commitment. Don’t get discouraged after six months because “it’s taking so long”. You’re barely even half way there.
Believe In Your Story
Because of the time investment required to finish a novel, it can be easy to fall prey to thinking that your story isn’t any good once you’ve started writing it. What seemed like a perfect idea in the beginning may begin to look tarnished, too simple, or too ludicrous, after a few weeks or months of working on it.
This happens to every author. Familiarity takes the excitement and the surprise out of what you create. You begin to wonder why anyone would be interested. It has become boring and it bores you. You don’t want to work on it any more and suddenly you’re thinking of other ideas… other stories that you could write…
Stop right there.
Writing is a great teacher when it comes to understanding commitment. Don’t fail your story by being tempted away for something else that will suffer the same fate. There are occasions when perhaps an idea is not right. But usually, it’s not so much the concept, it’s the way it’s written. Anything can be turned into a tale that lights up people’s hearts. Two stories with the exact same theme will be written completely differently by two different people. It is not so much the idea, it’s how you craft the delivery.
So don’t give up on your story if you’ve been working on a it for a while and it suddenly seems less interesting that everything else you’ve read. Take a week off (that’s increasing the time commitment right there), and come back to it with fresh eyes. Or just keep writing through the fear, and come out the other side knowing that it’s all going to be okay.
Your story is a part of you, don’t give up on it without giving it a chance.
Believe In Yourself
I’ve added this one last because it’s amazing how many of us want to write a book, start to write a book and then never finish it. Why does this happen? Aside from all the reasons above, there is something else at play.
It’s the feeling that you’re not good enough. The idea that what you write is inferior to what other people write. That everyone will laugh. That it’s rubbish.
That you’re wasting your time.
And in some ways, this is the hardest obstacle to overcome. Because if you don’t believe in yourself, how can anyone else? Try to put aside self judgement when it comes to what you write. You write because you love it, and because you have a story you want to share. You do it because you want to connect with others through your words.
Self-criticism won’t just go away because you tell it to, but what you can do is push it to one side. Hear it, and say, oh hello, it’s self-deprecation again, kindly move to one side so I can get on, thank you. Yes, this sounds totally mad, but it works. You’re not arguing with yourself, you’re not fighting it, you’re just saying, yes, I know all these feelings, but right now, I have writing to do.
And then get on and do it.
There really isn’t a book for writers that I could recommend more highly than On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. I found myself nodding along to so much of what he says and I absolutely loved it from start to finish.
Not only does it contain the wisdom of decades of bestseller creation, it is also written in King’s wonderful rambling style. He draws you in with anecdotes from both his past and his writing career. It’s a beautiful and inspiring book.
If there is anything out there that can tell you what it really takes to be a writer, it’s this. Read it.