Ok right, I acknowledge this blog post may or may not have bloomed from a guilty conscience. I quit my full-time job last year and exchanged it for a part-time job so I could have more time to focus on my writing and figure out what I want to do with my life. It has been a year since then and it has arguably been one of the best decisions I’ve made. I spend more time with everyone I love, and now I actually have a work-life balance (whereas before, I spent over 12 hours out of the house each day). BUT. I still haven’t finished my novel. When I realised this, I chastised myself – what on earth have I been doing this past year, because I clearly haven’t spent enough time writing. If I had, I would be finished by now, surely?
That may be partly true. These past two years, I have let weeks or even months slip by without so much as looking at my novel. I’ve been through the waves of self-doubt that every writer goes through and I just needed a break from it all, and that’s fine. But when I really think about it, although I haven’t been writing solidly this past year, I have still been working towards my goals indirectly, and that’s OK. Every little writing or reading-related thing you do will get you closer to the end goal of completing your novel. Chances are, if you’ve ‘wasted’ time on writing blogs or even watching Netflix (perhaps not excessively though…), you’ve picked up some form of useful advice or tip. Did you ever think that perhaps your novel isn’t finished yet because it’s simply not ready to be? You COULD have cranked it out in several months and called it a day but you haven’t because you know it can be better. And that’s awesome!
To further clarify, perhaps your novel isn’t finished yet because you’ve spent time:
Learning the craft of writing
Some people may be able to crank out their first book in a year, but chances are if you’re new to this whole writing thing, it’s unlikely. Let’s take a look at new artists. They won’t be creating Picasso-successful paintings in their first year of painting. In fact, they may throw away or abandon 99% of their work. That’s fine. They are still practicing, learning which brush-strokes to use to achieve certain effects, or what colours to mix together to get that perfect skin-shade. It’s the same for writers. I mean, you have the added bonus of knowing how to speak, hence you already have the foundations and building blocks, but until you research how to structure stories, build characters, write dialogue, and set scenes (and that’s just a small snippet), you won’t be able to write a complete, well-rounded and successful novel.
The longer you spend on honing your craft the better it will be.
Letting your work sit and getting distance from it
This is so important. When writing your first novel you may get sucked into the excitement of it all, chuck in every story idea you’ve ever had and thought it was the best thing ever. Who cares that there are no capital letters, the dialogue is stilted and you almost always tell not show? It’s finished right? Wrong. It is not finished, and chances are if you’ve let your WIP sit for a while you’ve realised this. You may feel somewhat deflated that your ‘completed’ novel is a half done mess, but that’s the first step in making it better. If you had just sent it out to agents you may have been inundated with rejection slips, which would have put you off writing altogether. By letting your work sit, you have gained enough distance from it to objectively understand what is wrong with it, thus are in a good position to improve it going forward. Yay, you!
Getting to know your characters
In the first draft, unless you’ve been ruminating over this character for several years, you won’t know the character as well as you should, which is fine as he/she may have changed in ways you didn’t expect as you wrote your novel. By spending time on your novel and not rushing it, you can really get inside your character’s head and get to know them properly.
Finding your writing weaknesses and remedying them
As you write more and learn the craft, you will be constantly identifying where you need to improve and hopefully remedying these areas by actively searching for the answers, be that in a writing craft book or on Google. As much as new writers may not want to hear it, you WILL get better with time (me included) and that first pass at a novel will be so much better in a couple of months or even years when you’ve understood where exactly you need to improve your writing skills.
Finding plot weaknesses and remedying them
As above. Not only will every writer have weaknesses in writing style but they will also have weaknesses in plotting. Spending time fixing these will only be of benefit.
Dabbling in other writing forms
Maybe you haven’t finished your novel because you’ve been playing around with writing short stories or even poetry. Any writer will tell you that perfecting the art of the short story will give you invaluable insight into story form, structure, character development and theme among other things such as dialogue and foreshadowing. Getting short stories completed, edited and polished is good practice when it comes to your much longer novel.
Now hear me out. If you’ve spent 11 months of the past year arsing around, then that’s unlikely to help you in the long run. If however, you’ve spent the last year reading books, reading writing-related blogs or magazines, listening to podcasts on the craft, Googling answers to your questions, or reading debut novel success stories, then that will all help you on your road to publication. Even watching the occasional Netflix documentary or series may give you inspiration for your story, an idea as to how to fix that plot hole, or even just highlight what makes an intriguing story. I recently answered a POV tense question which had been bugging me for weeks by listening to the always fabulous Writing Excuses podcast.
Blogging and getting yourself a platform
This is self-explanatory. Every writer is told that they need a ‘platform’ to reach out to their readers. By starting early, you will hopefully already have a readership so will be more likely to be signed up by an agent. Also, if you’re self-publishing, you may already have a couple of potential readers. Awesome!
Dedicating yourself to your book
Two years in and haven’t given up yet? You obviously think your novel is really good and enjoy writing it. A lot of people would have given up after two years but you haven’t and not only does that say something great about you as a person, it says something about your novel. You believe in it and if you believe in it enough to stick at it for several months, years or even decades then damn, it must be amazing.
Spending time away from your desk
As with any job, it’s important to leave work at work and home at home. Perhaps you haven’t finished your novel because you’ve been too busy enjoying your life and spending time with the people you love. There’s nothing wrong with that.
I admit it’s ironic that this post was written as an escape from having to actually face my novel but this procrastination has served its purpose. I no longer feel guilty about not having my novel finished, and I really can see a massive improvement between my first (terrible) draft and my current one. I will now log off from blogging, put my butt in gear, and get writing!
Just a quick list post detailing several different ways of sneaking that little extra bit of writing time into your life! It’s a bit hypocritical of me as I’ve chosen to write this as opposed to actually getting on with my novel or short stories but oh well…here goes!
1. Try to write 500 words a day
Exactly as it sounds, try and write a minimum of 500 words per day. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but it works! My sister, Becca, has written 70,000 words of her first draft this way. It needn’t be 500 words exactly, just choose a goal that you believe to be attainable and get cracking!
Why this will work:
In his eBook Mastering creativity, James Clear explores the importance of having a schedule and sticking to it – to him, consistency and routine is the difference between being a professional, and being an amateur.
‘if you’re serious about creating something compelling, you need to stop waiting for motivation and inspiration to strike you and simply set a schedule for doing work on a consistent basis. Of course, that’s easy to say, but much harder to do in practice…..If you don’t have a time block to write every week, then you’ll find yourself saying things like, “I just need to find the willpower to do it.” Stop waiting for motivation or inspiration to strike you and set a schedule for your habits’.
The entire publication is well worth a read. Find it here. Bottom line is, if you set yourself a schedule and stick to it, it will soon become a habit – as integral to your daily routine as brushing your teeth in the morning.
2. Set a timer for 15 minutes each day and write
Very similar to the above point, but you set a timer instead. This may work better if you have less time, as you know exactly how long you will need so will be easier to stick to and schedule in. Just promise yourself you will write AT LEAST until the timer finishes, and more if you fancy it. You could end up writing for hours. OR you could end up writing for 15 minutes. But hey, at least you’re making progress! I’m very tempted to give this method a go, as I’ve been slacking BIG TIME on my writing recently.
3. Devote one day a week to writing
It doesn’t have to be a whole day, but choose a day where you are free of other commitments and spend a few hours writing. This is what I (try to) do. I’m busy the rest of the week with work (now part-time, woohoo) and then freelancing afterward, so I tend to write on weekends. Sundays generally work for me, so I’ll try and sit down and crack out 3 or 4 hours of writing. Although this can work out really well (I once wrote 10,000 words in a day…) it can also be harder to keep to. Life happens, and sometimes your writing days will end up being filled with other commitments. It’s definitely worth giving it a go though, especially if you’re like me, and like to write in big chunks.
4. Download Evernote and write on the train/in lunch breaks/whilst waiting to pick up the kids etc
I love Evernote! I downloaded it over a year ago when I first started writing, and I used this method when I was writing my first draft. I was commuting into London every day and would try to add a little bit to my draft every morning (assuming I got a seat on the train). It worked great and, even though the writing was appalling (I absolutely hate typing on phones), I succeeded in outlining the main story-line this way. Evernote also allows you to access all your notes on any computer/iPad with an internet connection, so you can get home and pick up where you left off on your laptop. It is also a good source for note taking.
Top tip: Split your writing into chapters, or scenes, and have each one in a different ‘note’, otherwise you will find yourself having to scroll for ten minutes just to find the bit of writing you’re looking for. Not ideal. Remember, you can finalise chapter breaks properly once you are in the editing stage – you don’t need to commit to these specific breaks permanently, it is just easier from a usability perspective whilst you are at the drafting stage.
5. Ignore how bad your writing is
So you’ve found the time to write, which is great, but sometimes the quality of our writing can stop us in our tracks! Don’t sweat it. Sometimes our brains just don’t work (example, I just wrote ‘sometims our bains don’t work’…) but don’t let this put you off. If you’re having one of those days, just dump as much as you can on the page (no actual dumping please…). You never know, 10% of it could be salvageable and at least you’ve made progress. Moral of the story: any writing is better than no writing. Again, James Clear advocates the idea that you should give yourself permission to create junk:
‘Creative work is no different than training in the gym. You can’t selectively choose your best moments and only work on the days when you have great ideas. The only way to unveil the great ideas inside of you is to go through a volume of work, put in your repetitions, and show up over and over again. Obviously, doing something below average is never the goal. But you have to give yourself permission to grind through the occasional days of below average work because it’s the price you have to pay to get to excellent work.’
That’s all for now!