5 Tips to finish your novel from a jackass who finished his.
My first novel, The Catcher’s Trap, is coming out in a month so the last couple of weeks I’ve been giving a lot of interviews to blogs, local newspapers, and radio stations. All interviews are different, but they all end with the same question: What’s your advice for aspiring authors?
It feels weird giving advice to other authors because, honestly, I’m making it up as I go and following my instincts. I’m sure years from now I will cringe when I listen to my interviews or look back at things I’m doing right now.
There is one thing I know how to do, though, and that is writing a novel while handling a full-time job, family and even having time for an actual life. Here is a list of five things you need to do to finish your novel.
1. Create an outline: If you are a writer who needs a lot of wiggle room create a loose outline. If you are someone like me who likes structure and control, create a tight outline.
I know many authors believe that outlines restrict creativity and don’t let the writing flow free and find its own way (we’ll get to that hippie nonsense in a minute). An outline gives you a roadmap, and it will reduce the times you stare at a blank page by half.
When I wrote The Catcher’s Trap, I put together a scene by scene outline. As a result, the first draft practically wrote itself. With my second novel, Bad Medicine: Slay it Queen! I’m using a less detailed outline, and I can confirm that I spend a lot more time staring at my screen without touching the keyboard.
A simple google search will help you find guides on how to outline a book. Do your research and find the model that suit you best.
A couple of years ago, when I realized I was never going to finished my novel unless I changed my approach, I run into a Groupon for a $20 online class on how to write a novel. Judge all you want, but those were the best twenty bucks I ever spent. The “class” didn’t teach me how to write, but it taught me to get my act together and get organized. You need that. I’m sure there are plenty of free resources to learn how to create an outline. Find them and use them.
2. Stop romanticizing the process: I get it. We are creative people, and certain conditions have to exist for creativity. Let’s keep it real, though, writing is not a metaphysical process; it is a creative process that requires skill and discipline. Skill and discipline you can learn. Divine inspiration is not prerequisite for you to sit your ass and write.
If you are one of those authors who need muses dancing around you in order to write, then your chances of finishing that book are slim.
I hang out a lot with other writers, and it kills me when I hear some of them describing the convoluted conditions they need in order to grace a piece of paper with their divine words. Stop pretending your gift from god only triggers when you can feel the suffering of the world. Stop romanticizing the process, stop being pretentious and write.
3. Set an hour aside to write every day and do it: I know it is hard. I know that if you have kids, it is even harder, but you need to do it. I decided that my time for writing was five am every day. I don’t have any other time during the day or the evening. So I get up at five, take my dog out for a walk and then write. It is on my calendar, and it is an appointment that can’t be moved.
If you want to finish that novel, if you are serious about becoming a published author, you need to organize your life around that daily hour of writing and no the other way around. I know it is easier said than done, but we both know that writing a novel is not easy. If you are not willing to sacrifice sleep, time with your family and other things you may enjoy besides writing, then you are doing it wrong.
4. Don’t edit your first draft until you finish writing it: I know the temptation is great, but just don’t. Read back your chapters to make sure you are making sense. Correct typos or re-write a paragraph after you finished it if you are not happy with it. But don’t edit and write at the same time. There will be plenty of time to edit your manuscript in the future. Actually, between you and the editors, that first draft will be edited to death. Don’t delay finishing your novel because it is not perfect. Paraphrasing Hemingway, your first draft will be a piece of shit no matter what, so just finish it.
5. Believe in yourself: I know, it is corny, but even a cold-hearted jackass like me knows that believing in yourself is the key to finishing a novel.
Writing a novel is hard. Having the discipline and stamina to make it to the last word takes work, and you need to believe you are one of the few who will get there.
The world is full of “almost authors.” Most people who start a novel never finish writing it. Be confident that you will be part of the exception. Your idea is great, you have the discipline, and you are going to do it.
I guess the overall idea is just sit down and write. Some days you will write one word, some days you will write five thousand. One word is better than no words, so don’t over think it. Schedule your time, commit to it and write away. I promise you there is a novel with your name at the end of the rainbow.