As a novelist, one of the questions that I run into often deals with the patience and commitment to finishing a novel. By novel, what I mean is over 50,000 words of text that tells a complete story. I get it, the numbers can seem daunting. Still, the first thing I like to remind people who ask me this question, is that writing, telling a story, and even publishing is your own personal journey. The minute you make it into a competition, or a hustle (something you do just to make a dollar), you will find that it gets harder to finish.
The way I look at my writing is the same way I look at running a 5k race, or just a brisk walk with a destination in mind, all for the sake of fitness. So, how do I go about my runs? I don’t think about the finish line, I focus more on the journey—which for me is the best part of the process since I get to spend my time in someone else’s head and inside their made-up world. The goal will come when it comes, and if I am on a deadline, what changes with this process is that I increase my pace to a jog, but I’m still not sweating the goal.
Now, my methods may not work for every writer because, as we know, several factors make any two writers different. For instance, on a Gallup strengths assessment, I learned that my topmost “strength” is discipline. Many people will not have discipline as a strength, I cannot sit here and expect everyone reading to just put one foot in front of the other and get their novels done.
One of the first things you should look into if you’re having trouble finishing your project is whether or not you’re still interested in that story. If you’re not, there are strategies you can employ to reignite that fire, or it may be worth putting it to the side to finish on another day. Most writers I know have several projects unfinished, sitting in a folder, waiting for inspiration, so don’t feel too pressured to finish everything that you start. If you’re on a deadline or have made up your mind that the story you’re working on will be completed, then below are a few tips and tricks that I employ to get through my “jog” to the finish line.
I write first and plot later
This will make an outliner’s head explode. My style of writing is to “let the story tell itself,” as in, I sit down, get comfortable, and write into the ether whatever flows from my mind. Sometimes this method is enough to complete the story, but oft-times, I get halfway through and hit a wall where I have to really think about how I want to end the story or adjust something at the beginning that I’ve written. My outlines, even at this point, are pretty basic, just serving as a guide to get me back on track.
I write what excites me then fill in the blanks as needed
I forgot which writer shared this bit of wisdom, but when I am stuck and unable to keep writing, I open a new document, think up a scene that excites me, and just start writing that. If you read my books, it will become evident that I love good arguments, combat scenarios, and tension. When I get stuck, I write fight scenes or two people arguing, having a chat, or making love. Those—for me—are the easiest things to write. Once I get going, it tends to stir up my creative juices, and I usually end up writing so much more after jump-starting my engine with one of those scenes.
In my project folder for every book is typically a document that I label, “extra scenes,” or something to that effect. This is where I scribble random conversations and combat scenarios that I can adapt later on to the story. Many times they go unused, but this is okay since the point is to get my juices flowing.
I pick out a cover and blurb before finishing
This is for the self-publishers since you have complete control of your assets. When you lack inspiration to finish, sometimes starting the process for your cover and blurb can light the fire necessary to get moving. The blurb forces you to consider the overall point and outcome of your story. The cover will give you a visual interpretation that has only been inside your head.
To wrap this up, I must remind you that fiction writing is still an art, just like drawing, painting, and writing poetry or songs. Much of the pressure from writing is self-inflicted and based on us running mental comparisons with our peers. Many times we set ourselves up for the stress, feeling that in doing so, we will overcome that enormous hurdle of actually getting it done. Be mindful of this, and remember that writing is a lonely solo-art, best carried out in privacy, only to be revealed when we’re satisfied with the product. Making it a competition or a cash-grab can lead to burnout, and you will eventually quit, so consider your motivation and what drives you to put pen to paper. Make sense?
There is one final tip that professional writers give, which is to write at the same time every day to develop a habit, in much the same way you would do with a job. It’s excellent advice for some, but not for me, as I like to write whenever and wherever I feel the inspiration. Older writers who were restricted to a typewriter had it much harder than us with our smartphones and access to the internet’s cloud. Take advantage of this, and just keep writing. If it’s your personal project, and you keep adding and refining it until you feel satisfied with what you’ve done, you’re bound to reach that finish line. It will feel amazing because it was on your own terms.
So, don’t sweat finishing, focus on your story, and when you become critical, check yourself to be sure it isn’t about competition or comparing yourself to someone published. That’s the best advice I can give, Keep it as an art, and remove the pressure to finish, just to say that you’re done. Writing is personal, and until you publish, it will remain enjoyable when you keep it that way.
Focus on the journey and write-on, my fellow scribblers.