10 Feb 6 tips for How to Write a novel AND FINISH IT in 2019
I’m back to being a fulltime writer this year and working to get the discipline again thats required to finish novels. Its hard aaargh! But here’s what I’ve found that works for me, and maybe some of it might work for you too. Whether you’re writing a novel or a PhD thesis, the basic tips apply.
1. Set dates and work towards deadlines. Last year I wrote OCEAN’S KISS in four months and that’s because I picked a date for completion and then mapped out the writing schedule for it. This year I’m publishing three novels so I’ve set the dates for each and allowed 4 months for writing and editing. If you estimate how many words you want for your novel, then you can calculate how much you should be writing weekly and daily. Sure some days I don’t get writing done because life happens but then I adjust my schedule and add on words for the next weeks workload. Be flexible but don’t let flexibility become your excuse for procrastinating writing.
2. Build a habit. – I write Monday to Friday, for two to three hours each morning. I started small in January, with a daily goal of 2000 words a day. And am working my way back up to a fulltime writing schedule. If you’re very new to writing books, then I recommend you start smaller with a daily goal of 500 words, or even 250. Your goal must be manageable for where you’re at, and short bursts are better than suffering through marathon sessions of drudgery where you will end up hating writing. You don’t try to run before you can walk.
3. Find a writing space with minimal distractions. That space will be different for everyone. I like what Stephen King recommends, a space with no view, no inspiring scenery, and as little distracting comforts as possible. (Like sitting inside a cupboard!) For me, I have to get out of my house because I get distracted by housework that calls my name, cakes that want to be baked, and other things that aren’t really vital at all. I take the kids to school, visit my parents, and then go to a cafe, put on headphones to discourage interruptions, then write. I stream a couple of radio stations that play music I like, order a latte that I never drink because I sip on my water bottle, and then force myself into the zone.
4. Write for progress, not perfection. This means, write without re-reading or self-editing as you go. This is crucial. I used to start by reading my work in progress…and then would get distracted by editing and rewriting…and then I wouldn’t write any new words. I also don’t allow for research or fact checking during this time. (A time-suck is stopping to “go research this very important detail and OH LOOK SOMETHING SHINY ON TWITTER and OOH LET ME JUST GO DOWN THIS RABBIT HOLE FIRST…”, next thing you know the days gone and I’ve written nothing. 😂). If I get to a point in my book where I’m not sure about a detail that requires fact-checking, I mark it AND THEN I KEEP WRITING. Don’t get deterred from the wordcount goal. Perfection can come later. You can’t perfect words that havent been written so just get those words out first. Even if they’re dreadful.
5. Track your progress – I keep a record of my wordcount each day, what I start and finish on, the time I start and finish. When I started, I would chase 2000 words and just make it in time for the 2hr deadline. (Confession, sometimes I would even type extra unnecessary adjectives, or random Eminem song lyrics JUST to make it to 2000!) It felt like a supreme effort and achievement to hit my goal. But by the second week, I was writing 3000 words in the same period of time. The more you write, the easier it gets.
6. Treat it like a job, not a hobby. The best writing wisdom I’ve ever read was from Agatha Christie.
“There was a moment when I changed from an amateur to a professional. I assumed the burden of a profession, which is to write even when you don’t want to, don’t much like what you’re writing, and aren’t writing particularly well.”
I aspire to her level of professionalism.
We have this fantasy sometimes that writing is meant to be an exciting joyous thing where we are swept away by imagination and the sheer delight of creativity. And yes, sometimes it is like that and the words spill out onto the page in a rush of fierce joy. But most of the time it’s nothing like that at all. It’s slow, frustrating, and we have the awful suspicion that what we’re writing is rather bad. So we stop because we think we can only write when the magic is flowing and when we are high on our own awesomeness. No. If we keep stopping because we expect it to be magic, then we will never finish a project. Some days as I’m writing, I’m cringing at how bad it is. But I don’t stop because its work and I need to hit my target. Much later when its time to go through my draft, then I will rewrite, cut, and polish. Often I will read my work and realise that Wow this isn’t bad at all! I like it! And I will be glad that I persisted on a #ugh writing day.
Everyone is different and you must find what works for you. Adapt these to suit you if you think they might help. Please share in the comments what strategies you use to get writing projects completed.