How to Get that Novel Finished
Writing Tips – How to Get that Novel Finished
By Deborah Kane
January 27, 2019
People enter the world of writing all the time, and their ideas and unique expressions expand the lives of readers everywhere. Published writing enriches us all, but there’s a long road between looking at that first blank page and having a manuscript finished. Following is the process I used for completing my first novels as well as the method I use now.
What would I know about finishing a novel? - After decades of being drawn to writing fiction, I published my first three novels in 2017. The Fifth Dragon series is humorous fantasy. Light Sleepers, a mystery sci-fi with overtones of conspiracy, followed in 2018. I’m currently completing the first drafts of three more novels.
When planning to write a book, there are important questions to ask yourself.
Why? - The most important question to ask is why do you want to write a novel in the first place? It’s a huge commitment of time and energy. If your “why” isn’t strong enough, it’ll be tough to finish. The “why” is what provides the energy to show up every day. Having something important to say has more lasting energy than does hoping you’ll make a lot of money. Novelists can make a good living, but it requires commitment and self-education.
Since most people who want to write a book never get started, you’re already ahead of the field if you’re in your chair and writing. Of those who start, few complete a book. If you get to “The End”, congratulate yourself. You’re in the minority.
Maximize your time. - Like most of us, I had a day job that required eight hours a day in front of a computer, and by the end of a workday, I was too exhausted to work on a novel.
After reviewing my schedule, I realized I could write for fifteen minutes at coffee breaks. After eating my lunch and taking a short walk, I had a half-hour left during which I could write a few paragraphs. This gave me almost an hour a day. Instead of adding to my workload, I was revived by these quick jaunts into a fictional world. Changing focus from finances and formal writing was as good as a rest.
Utilizing these time slots produced an astounding amount of material in a short time. I’d email my work home and add it to a growing manuscript. I remember the day I realized my story was almost 80,000 words! I still had ideas to add, so I started on the next book. I’m currently at work on the fourth novel in the Fifth Dragon series.
Since most weekend mornings were spent loafing, I decided to set aside that block of time to write. I’d get up before seven o’clock, pour a cup of coffee, turn on my computer, and open my manuscript. I felt I should be able to work at least five hours a day on weekends if writing was a genuine priority.
Once I was spending ten hours writing each weekend, my progress skyrocketed. It also confirmed I could write consistently over long periods.
I continued to do first drafts on work breaks, but longer periods of focus were needed to give the books a final polishing. After I had four books drafted, I dedicated my weekend schedule to editing. I didn’t want to publish my fantasy series until they were cohesive. As the characters solidified and their world became familiar, I updated earlier versions.
In 2015 I decided I’d had enough of the day job and left to pursue my writing career. With four books completed, I’d proven to myself that writing wasn’t just a whim.
Like everybody else, I had issues with which to deal. Two weeks before I left my day job, my ailing mother moved in with me, and many hours of the next two years were spent driving to medical appointments and making hospital visits. We all have distractions and responsibilities. Life changes. Sometimes we have extra hours; sometimes we’re frantically trying to get everything done we need to do.
Since I no longer had a day job, I scheduled mornings for writing and editing, afternoons for developing social media accounts and investigating publishing options. When my mother’s medical needs took a chunk out of my day, I switched my writing time to evenings, and I’d make notes while waiting in a doctor’s office.
The point here is that whether we have large blocks of time or we’re trying to fit in a few minutes here and there, our commitment is what matters. Although I receive my first pension cheque this month, I don’t consider myself “retired”. I have a new career and no intentions of coasting.
Watch your self-talk. - Habitual self-talk is as important as commitment. Saying, “I want to play with my book”, or “I get to work on my book” gives a much different feel than, “I have to work on my book.” In ten years of writing, I’ve never forced myself to spend time at the keyboard. If I’m distracted or would rather be doing something else, I re-read the previous day’s work and do a little editing, perhaps add a few sentences or a paragraph or two. If I’m still distracted, I close my computer and do something else. I never want writing to be a punishment. Mostly though, I slip into that world as I’m reading, the story starts to flow, time disappears, and I’m in another dimension.
Procrastinate - Procrastination is a great tool to use to your advantage. Tell yourself, “I’ll go for coffee after I’ve finished this page.” or “I’ll visit my friend after I’ve solved this character’s dilemma.”
Persist - Writing is like going to the gym. Benefits only accrue with regular participation. A fitness instructor once told me, “Even a poor workout is better than no workout at all. It keeps you showing up and demonstrates loyalty to your goal.” This works for writing too.
I suggest you draw a picture of your completed novel or pin your anticipated cover image to your fridge with the book’s title in bright letters. Imagine drinking your favourite beverage as you read a brand-new hard-backed copy of your precious creation. How’s that going to feel?
Join a writer’s group. - Don’t reinvent the wheel. The experience of others is priceless. Be respectful, participate in activities, and as you learn, help newcomers as you’ve been helped.
There are many paths to becoming a successful novelist, but they all start with completing a manuscript of which you can be proud. I hope some of the ideas here are of benefit to those who are struggling to get to “The End”.
It can be done. Good luck to all my fellow writers!