That first flush of enthusiasm — I’m writing a novel! — has long gone. It’s dawning on you that finishing a novel is a challenge. Anyone can start a novel. Finishing it is something else altogether, and it’s hard.
Get a Strategy: Sit and Stay
Leo Babauta at zenhabits has some excellent advice, because all writers face the same problem. They want to run away:
Whether I’m writing an article or a book chapter, creating something new is not easy. I open up a new document, and instantly want to go answer some emails or clean my kitchen or read that long article on magician Ricky Jay.
Don’t run. The feeling doesn’t mean anything — we all get it. You need a strategy to deal with it. Leo gives you some good advice.
Here’s what I do. I sit. That’s all. It’s what Leo advises too: “Sit there, and look inside yourself.” I sit, and just breathe for a few moments. Slowly, I get back to myself. I can hear birds outside my window. Maybe a car drives past. I get in touch with my hands, my feet. My breathing deepens.
Maybe an idea for the novel floats into my brain. If it does, I’m good. I start writing. Maybe no idea appears. If this happens, I reread the last two or three thousand words I wrote.
Then, right in the novel itself, I create an entry in a character journal. It can be a major character’s journal, or a minor one, it doesn’t matter. You may or may not use the journal entry in your novel.
Here’s how it helps. Dropping right into the middle of your story gives you perspective. You’re writing about real people (real to you, and your readers), and they have problems. You should feel your enthusiasm rekindling, and you’ll write easily for the rest of your writing session.
If you don’t want to write a character journal, try…
1. Getting Clear on What’s on Your Mind
Maybe you had a fight with your partner. Maybe your child has problems. Just grab a pencil and paper — or open a new computer file — and start writing. Start with these words: “here’s what’s on my mind. How do I write anyway?”
2. Killing Off a Character (or Characters)
This often works, because when you’re writing the first few chapters of your novel, you create characters with abandon. They seem necessary, at the time. However, these bit-players clutter up your novel, and you lose focus. Your subconscious mind is well aware of this. Your resistance is the early-warning siren.
Let’s say you’re writing a mystery. You’ve got a crime, and a sleuth. You created the sleuth’s family. He has a wife, and three teenagers. The wife has problems, the kids have problems. Before you know it, the crime’s left center stage, and you’re writing a family drama.
Make a note to yourself that you’ll trim his family down to size, and get back to the point of your novel — the sleuth solving the crime. You can delete scenes later, for now, keep writing. Refocus.
3. Writing a Later Scene You Really Want to Write
If you’ve been writing chronologically, look at your outline. If a scene jumps out at you, write that. There’s no rule which says you have to write a novel from beginning to end. You can jump around as much as you like.
I often do this, because it works. It’s always easier to write what you really want write. Trust yourself. Your subconscious mind is wise. You may find that once you’ve written what you want to write, the answers to the scenes you’re struggling with magically appear.
So, there you have it — some idea to ensure that you keep writing, when you want to run away. Remember: sit, and stay. Don’t run. 🙂
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