by Amy Bennet
A novel is not a sprint, but a marathon. It’s going to take some time between the first trickle of ideas, and a polished book. And if you do the process well, you’ve improved as a writer by the end. But how do you finish a novel?
The first trick is to consistently get writing done, and that includes revision. Create a writing habit that works for you. A consistent habit is going to be more productive (and less guilt-ridden) than waiting for the muse to strike. Maybe you like to write for an hour in the morning first thing, or you write on lunch breaks, or before bed, or on weekends, but try to make it consistent so you don’t have to think about it. Create the habit of writing every day, or several days a week, whatever frequency works for you, but try not to go for too long without writing.
Choose a place for writing that meets your needs. Are you an extrovert, or an introvert? When you write, does it help to have others around who are writing, or do you loathe to be interrupted? Do you prefer a public place or being at home? Some writers like the atmosphere of a coffee shop, or a library. Some write best solo, some do best with a regular social commitment to meet a friend to write, some like to join a writers’ group. Maybe you like to mix it up. The point is, the more you can make writing into a habit, something that’s a natural and welcome part of your routine, the less willpower it will take, which saves your energy for the things that matter.
Another trick is to make yourself accountable. Choose people in your life, or find people, who will support you in completing your goal. Maybe you email the rough draft to a friend as you write, or you check in every day with a writer friend to compare notes on your progress as each of you writes, or you post updates on your progress to social media.
Writing can be incredibly lonely, and writing a novel can take months or years. I think it’s common for writers to feel many flavors of fear as they write, from anxiety about whether the story is any good, to uncertainty about how to tell the story, to worry about how to find readers who want the book. These feelings are a natural part of any creative process where you’ve challenged yourself, you’re doing something you care about, and there’s no guarantee of success.
If you want to make yourself accountable, and allay some of these fears, you might consider working with a developmental editor who can give you monthly deadlines. I work with writers who send me new chapters every month, and just knowing that I’m waiting for their chapter, and that they’ll get timely editorial feedback on what’s working and what opportunities I see, can help them stay focused and productive. I also like being able to keep the writers’ costs down, since spreading the fee over some months can make the difference between a writer feeling they can’t afford an editor, and deciding that they can.
Amy Bennet writes cultural criticism, journalism, book reviews, short fiction, and poetry. She is a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association.