Ok, here it is: the actual hardest part of the writing process. All the planning and plotting and outlining has led you here, but now you have to actually write the novel. Everyone thinks the writing will be easy. They think it’ll all just flow out of the tips of their fingers like magic as soon as they sit down at the computer. And sometimes that’s exactly what happens. Sometimes the words come so fast that you can’t stop them, but most of the time, the writer gets to the first roadblock, the first part of the story that they didn’t anticipate, the first plot hole, and their encouragement starts to crumble. Novels are hard to write, despite the cultural belief that natural talent makes up for the more difficult aspects of the job. So, let’s look at some tips to keep your fingers moving when you hit the hard parts.
Put a Timer On It.
This tool is the most utilized in my personal arsenal. I get brain fatigue really easily, so after about an hour of writing, I’m burned out for a little while, so instead, I do everything in rounds. I write for bursts of 20 or 30 minutes, where I don’t stop at all in that amount of time, just stay focused on my project and try to shut out everything else until the timer goes off. I don’t check my phone or stop for social media. When the 20 or 30 minute round is done, I take a break to do something else, whether it’s housework or watching an episode of a TV show or going for a walk. There are days when I do three of these 30 minute rounds and there are days where I do six or seven. Your brain works best in bursts of energy, so take advantage of that to be as focused and productive as you can be.
Create a Work Schedule.
Especially if you’re working from home, making sure that you’re creating a schedule for yourself and sticking to it is so important. It doesn’t have to be the same every day, but it needs to be as concrete as possible so that you can be consistent with it. We’re creatures of habit and setting a specific work time every day will encourage you to treat it like a regular responsibility instead of something you can just do whenever inspiration hits (spoiler: inspiration will vanish, so if you only write when inspired, you'll never finish a project). Set business hours for yourself. It’s tempting when you’re writing from home to take a day off or to put off the writing in favor of other things, until before you know it, you haven’t written in a week or two. If you need a day off, take it. Otherwise, get to work!
Set a word goal for yourself in the morning. If it’s a day where you know you’re going to have more time than usual, set a bigger goal. Tell yourself that you can’t stop for the day until you’ve reached your goal. Or give yourself a reward when you hit a certain word goal (I often eat a piece of chocolate for every 10 pages). This keeps you accountable for making sure your project gets done in a certain amount of time. If you’re trying to write a novel in a month, divide up the amount of words you think you want the story to be by the number of days you want it done by, and if you stick to your word count every day, it’ll keep you on track for your bigger schedule.
Take a Step Back.
While I definitely think it’s a good idea to keep on your schedule, I also understand that burnout is inevitable. You’ll get tired of looking at your book. It always happens, and it happens to every writer. Either your project isn’t turning out the way you wanted it to or you’ve lost track of the story or your brain is just exhausted. This is all totally normal. Take a second to step back and let your brain use other art as an outlet. Go to a museum, listen to some music, watch a movie. Take in other peoples’ creations for little while until you’ve recharged. When you feel inspired again, when you feel like you’ve refreshed yourself, go back to work.
Ignore the New Idea.
There is an inevitable thing that happens to every writer when they’re in the midst of writing a new novel, and it’s called the “Shiny New Idea.” The shiny new idea is the idea you get for your NEXT novel while you’re already working on one. The reason that the next idea seems so much better than the one you’re working on now is because it’s still just an idea. The idea you’re working on now was once a shiny new idea, too, and if you were to drop the idea you’re working on now in favor of the one floating in your head, it would eventually be the problem draft that you’re working on and then another shiny new idea will come along, and eventually you’ll have a dozen unfinished projects and a whole host of shiny new ideas that you won’t finish. Don’t be that person. Finish your work.
Bad First Drafts.
The absolute most important thing to remember is that there’s no such thing as a good first draft. First drafts are awful. They’re a mess, they don’t make sense, and they don’t look anything like that idea that you had in your head. A lot of people get to the end of their first draft and do one of two things: they think it’s amazing and they immediately try to get it published or they think it’s trash and that they’ll never be good enough to do anything with it. The thing to remember is that a first draft is just that: a first draft. It’s meant to be the starting point, the jumping off point, the place to begin. From there, you have to learn how to edit. You have to learn how to improve. You have to learn how to make it better, until what you have in front of you is something that you’re proud of.
Drafting is hard. More than inspiration, it takes discipline. It takes focus. Do what you need to do to make it to the finish line.