How to finish writing a novel

Novels are much longer when writing them than they are reading and as such it can make them very difficult to finish.

I know a very large number of people who have started writing a book and still not finished. Some have even started several. For this very reason publishers don’t usually accept submissions until the whole book is finished. It’s a hard task, much harder than people realise.

Often the excitement of a new idea carries the writer through the first 10k words without a problem and determination can carry through the next 10k or so. That leaves at least another 30k to go and often a lot more. (50k is the very minimum for a book to be classed a novel but 75k is more like average)

So here’s how I motivate myself to get to the end of the book.

1, I plan out the plot and characters first. With a good idea of who the characters are and where the plot is going it makes the beginning quicker so you can get further than just 20k in before the shiny of the idea starts to wear off. It also means when you’re stuck you’ve got something to read through which jogs your memory and helps rekindle that excitement now and then.

2, I try to write a little each day. Getting into a gentle routine helps through the rougher patches. It’s very satisfying to get to the end of a month and realise you’ve chipped off another 15k words from that target just by doing a little bit each day. It’s always harder to come back and write when you’ve not touched a manuscript for a month or more. You’ve often forgotten what your train of thought is and can’t quite remember who the characters are and it’s always slow going to get back into the flow, not to mention detrimental to the flow of the story.

3, I never stop working at the end of a chapter. For a similar reason as above, it’s always harder to get started again right at the beginning of a chapter. You have to think over who’s point of view it’s meant to be from and where it’s got to get to. The plot can help with this a little but it depends how detailed your plot is. Mine only tends to be a couple of A4 pages so not enough for a chapter by chapter breakdown.

When I come back to my work and see the first three paragraphs of a chapter I know who’s point of view, usually what they are actually doing and often how they feel at that moment. It gives me a boost into the characters head to carry on writing as them.

4, I get the ending straight in my head and remind myself of it regularly. This is especially useful in the middle stages when a book can deviate from the plot outline quite easily. It helps give it a point to aim to and keep it on course so you waffle less in the mire of uncertainty.

5, I don’t let myself start anything longer than a days writing at the same time as writing a novel. Often this is the big failure point for novels. If you start another novel, or novella even, while writing one novel the first just doesn’t get finished. New ideas are always more exciting than the one you’ve been writing for 3 months now and can’t quite work out how you’re going to get the character out of the predicament you just put them in. It’s very hard to come back to an old novel once you’ve started meeting new characters and got excited about a different set of lives.

6, I try to write during my best awake time each day, for me that’s the afternoon and early evening. So in the mornings I do the other stuff I need to do like blogging, emailing and marketing (also typing up in my case as I write by hand). It just helps get that few hundred extra words each day and stops them feeling quite so laboured.

7, I recognise when I’m just having a bad day. Sometimes writing just doesn’t work very well and it doesn’t mean the story is sucking and the book is going nowhere so it should be abandoned. It just means that you either need to take a break or persevere through that difficult bit because the book will be all the more glorious for the effort. There are scenes I’ve struggled and had to really spend ages on to get them out and then had people tell me it’s their favourite part. Just because you struggle writing it doesn’t mean it’s the weakest part. Sometimes the extra effort makes it a gem within the rest.

There are also times when I’ve taken a break, gone off walking for the day or whatever I felt like and come back to the book the following day feeling so much fresher that I know exactly what to write. Occasionally I even get an idea while doing the other activity and come rushing back to my pad of paper and pen like a mother to her lost children.

8, I don’t usually edit while writing. I think about the sentences before I write them but I don’t go back and critique my work until the whole thing is finished. (I say usually because I’m blogging Sherdan’s prophecy and hadn’t finished it when I started blogging so for the first 10 or so chapters had to edit while I was writing) Writing something requires being excited about the lives and story being told. It’s very hard to remain excited if you’re pulling it apart and criticising yourself as you go. Editing often make authors feel sad about their work and while necessary it’s often easier to keep them as two distinctly separate phases.

9, If I’m really struggling and need to get more motivated again I go find someone I know who is enthusiastic about my work. Often this is one of my friends. I have a few in particular who love reading and never criticise me, ever. They know other people will do so and that sometimes I just need to be happy with what I’m writing. If I really can’t get past a point I start telling them about the idea. Just the act of telling them means I get more excited again and often by going through the plot to tell them I remember things I’ve forgotten.

10, I minimise distractions as much as possible. I often write on the sofa by hand because it’s away from the computer with it’s emails, twitter and facebook and all manner of other interesting things. If I have something on in the background like the tv or music I make sure it’s something I’ve seen or heard enough I know what’s going on and only kind of watch or listen to. For me the best thing is a period drama series or trilogy of films I can stick on one after the other and just play in the background, but if it starts to distract me it goes off.

That’s pretty much how I do it. Those ten things combined get me to the end of each novel and especially through the toughest bit which is often two-thirds of the way through a book until I reach that ending part I’ve held in my head. Everyone is different so try a few and see what works for you, over time you’ll develop your own way of motivating yourself and getting your writing done.

Mostly though you do need to love writing. Writing is something a lot of people think they can do. We all write emails and tell people things when we see them. It’s a part of our communication but writing 75,000 words about the same people and have it flow well, be interesting and be an enjoyable ride (for the most part) is a completely different ball game.

Category: How-to, Novels, Writing  Tags: , ,
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One Response
  1. LK Watts says:

    Hi Jess,

    I find that having some sort of routine is essential when writing. It really sharpens your mind, and you can concentrate more when you do something everyday, no matter how small it is. It really makes you focus 🙂

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