Writing a Novel? How to Keep Going

Sophie Playle

Many people start writing a novel with passion and enthusiasm, but only a few go on to actually complete their books.

In a lot of cases, they write to a point, then start dragging their feet – for various reasons – and eventually abandon the incomplete draft. Perhaps … you can relate?

So what can you do to stop this happening to you?

Let’s look at some of the main reasons why writers stall and how to deal with each one.

Problem 1: Your Idea Fizzles Out Midway

At first, your story idea seemed exciting and full of potential, but after writing 15,000 to 20,000 words, you now draw a blank when you sit down to write.

Sound familiar? Here are three different ways you can tackle this issue:

Take some time off

From time to time, it’s a good idea to take a break from your writing so you can gain a fresh perspective. This might be for just a day, three days, five days … or even a whole week or more – it’s up to you. (Just don’t leave it too long.)

You’ll find your brain churns around some ideas while you’re not sitting staring at a blank Word document, and you’ll come back with a fresh mindset and a bit more objectivity.

Have a brainstorming session

Brainstorming sessions can help you come up with lots of fresh ideas. The key is not to censor yourself – anything can go! The more ideas you have, the more original they’ll be.

Perhaps there’s something in the story so far you could change. Perhaps a character isn’t who you originally thought they would be. Perhaps there’s a worldbuilding aspect you can add to your story.

Before long, you’ll feel excited by the possibilities and will be able to regain your writing momentum.

Create an outline for your novel

In simple terms, an outline is a plan for what happens in your novel from the beginning to the end. With an outline, it’s difficult for your story idea to fizzle out midway – because you’ve already decided where it’s going.

However, writers are generally divided on using an outline. Some prefer to see where their inspiration takes them instead of mapping out their story.

But if you’re stuck, spending some time to create an outline can help you keep going. It doesn’t have to be super detailed, either – just something to bring direction to your writing.

Problem 2: You’re Bored with Your Story

Have you lost interest in writing your novel because you’re now bored with the story? This is another major reason some writers abandon their work-in-progress. To renew your interest again, try and answer the following questions honestly:

  • Is the premise strong enough?
  • Are your characters interesting and original?
  • Is the dialogue too dry and predictable?
  • Is there enough conflict and tension?
  • Did you carry out enough research?
  • Are you telling instead of showing?
  • Are there enough twists and turns in the story?

If you’re falling short here, think about ways you can make any of these aspects stronger. I bet if you do, you’ll find that creative spark again.

Problem 3: You’re Stuck in an Endless Loop of Rewriting

Some writers find it tough to finish writing their novel because once they write a little, they start editing repeatedly. After doing this for a while, they sometimes become discouraged and abandon the novel without completing it since it feels like their progress is so slow.

In most cases, this is due to a lack of confidence in their abilities. They want to make the first draft as good as it can be. Often though, that can’t happen until you have more of the story to shape, so it’s often more beneficial to keep writing new material and worry about making it better at a later date.

The following three strategies can help:

Avoid editing while writing

Writing and editing at the same time is a bad idea. Why? Because each task requires a different mindset. Writing is creating. Editing is criticising. And it’s really hard to be creative at the same time you’re criticising your own work.

Your best option is to separate writing time from editing time – and make sure you’re giving yourself more writing time than editing time (so you keep up your momentum).

Keep in mind that first drafts are supposed to be messy, so push through until you finish your first draft before spending a substantial amount of time editing.

Have a daily writing target

Your daily writing target can be the amount of time you dedicate to writing every day or the number of words you write daily.

For example, your daily target could be thirty minutes, or to write at least 500 words. With such targets, you will pay more attention to your writing productivity and avoid getting stuck editing and rewriting repeatedly.

* * *

Writing a novel is a big task that takes a long time. It’s no wonder many people struggle to maintain their momentum with it!

But if you find yourself floundering, try the strategies above – and don’t be one of those writers who never reaches the finish line.

Sophie Playleis a professional fiction editor. She specialises in developmental editing, critiquing and copy-editing, and loves working with authors and publishers who are passionate about high-quality storytelling. Speculative fiction, fantasy, science fiction and literary fiction are her genres of choice. She's an Advanced Professional Member of the Chartered Institute of Editors and Proofreaders and has a Creative Writing MA from Royal Holloway, University of London. Find out more: liminalpages.com

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