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Five Things to Do When You Want to Finish Your Novel

Everyone has good days and bad days; it’s genuinely accepted as a universal fact. But what a lot of people never say is just how hard it is to finish a damn novel in the first place.

Oh, they’ll commend you for having written one. They’ll see when you finish your novel and congratulate you on writing it. But they don’t think beyond that you have a book in your hand, and you’ve written the book, and they should be proud of you for it.

People who don’t write books never see the blood, sweat, tears and frustration that goes into producing the thing. They don’t understand the long, drawn-out process of creating, writing and editing a novel.

And they don’t realise how hard it is for someone with depression and/or anxiety to even sit in that damn chair in the first place, let alone write a blasted word of a scene.

To be a writer, you must write.

But writing is sometimes harder than many people realise. There are days when you doubt they will read your book, if people will even like it. And some days it’s just that much harder to force your butt in the chair and bring your fingers to the keyboard.

So I created this article. I compiled a list of five things I’ve found work when my anxiety over failure spurs my depression into overdrive. V.E. Schwab once said your love and passion for getting your work done must be greater than your fear of failing. Here’s five tips on how to get your passion back.

1. Discover Your “Why”.

A line art sketch of a Victorian woman at a desk preparing to finish her novel.

When you start a business, knowing your “why” is one of the first unofficial things a business mentor wants you to understand. We can also say this of writers, and art.

When you’re not connected to what you do, you’ll stop doing it. It’s that simple. If you know why you’re doing something, you become connected to it and can then complete it.

Simply put, your “why” is the reason you do what you do.

Ask yourself, why is it important for you to finish your novel?

Have an answer? Great. My “why”, more often than not, is this is a story I want to tell. If you don’t know this, you’re buying into the belief that your art isn’t important.

Your art is valid. Make no mistake.

Now go a little deeper and ask yourself why is this reason important?

For me, telling this story is important because I don’t believe in “Disneyfication” of fairytales and myths.

Keep asking, over and over, why is this reason important until you hit something. When you say no to your craft, this is what you’re saying no to. Keep going until you hit a reason you’re emotionally connected to.

You might end up unpeeling a lot of layers to get to your emotionally resonant “why”. That’s okay, because once you’ve found that reason, you can connect (or re-connect) to your craft so you can create and finish your novel.

Even if you’re the only one who sees it, your art is worth it.

Here are five things you can do when you want to finish your novel and your brain doesn't want to co-operate with you. Click To Tweet

2. Come Up with A “Good, Better, Best” List to Finish Your Novel.

The aim of this is to create a sliding scale for your writing practice. If you only have five minutes to do something, you cannot do the same amount of work as you could manage in an hour.

Think of three “ingredients” you can turn into a writing practice. Maybe you’ve picked the major beasts of outlining, editing, and drafting. Maybe you went with the smaller daily writing sprint, plotting, world-building.

Think of it as a layer in a cake, each is a unique area in your writing life. These are the categories for the matrix of “good, better, best”. The parameters of your craft.

Now think about what actions you associate with these “ingredients” that you can do to finish your novel? If you’re considering outlining what tasks within this will you complete each day until you finish your novel? For plotting, how will you do this?

If you have options, it’s harder to get it wrong.

The “good, better, best” matrix works on the sliding scale.

Originally, it was “if you only have five minutes, what can you do today?” for the “good,” and the “best,” was, “if you have an hour, pick something.” Like many of my creative pursuits, I bastardised it.

For our purposes, the “good” category is for the smaller chunks. The “best” is for manic “in the zone-ing”, and the “better” falls somewhere in between.

My “good” while drafting is to complete one scene, this is my minimum threshold. My “better” is two scenes, and my “best” is three scenes.

There’s no such thing as perfection, and life never goes according to plan. So be kind to yourself and give yourself permission to do what you feel able to. This matrix is useful to set goals.

3. Do Something Related but Still Creative.

This isn’t procrastination. At least, I hope it’s not.

When I say, “do something related but still creative,” I mean something related to your current project.

I tend to create playlists for my novels or make some mock-ups of my book. If I haven’t already, I might create or tweak the cover, or the blurb, or the book page on my site. It’s still useful, it’s still related to my project. It’s just not drafting the damn thing. I wait until everything else is as close to finished as I can before I begin my drafting.

Wait. That sounds like an excuse.

I’m a perfectionist. It’s why my “good” options are do one thing. I had a counselling session (okay, it was more than one) and the counsellor kept repeating a line from the old sitcom Only Fools and Horses.

“Never mind,” said Del Boy, when things didn’t go quite according to plan. “There’s always tomorrow, Rodney.”

You can always come back and do the heavy lifting when using your brain isn’t too much effort.

But you still need to produce promotional material, even traditionally published authors have to do their own marketing these days.

Rather than force a scene which doesn’t seem like it will come, pick something else on your to-do list (or your “good, better, best” matrix) and tick a different item off your list. It might take you longer to finish your novel, but at least you’ve still done something productive.

Put your mental health first and do something easier for a change.

There’s always tomorrow.

4. Write Anyway. Finish Your Novel.

Conversely, sit down and write the damn thing even if you feel like pulling at your hair. Put your butt on the chair, hold your hands over the keyboard, and force the words to come.

On bad days, when my goal for a writing session is one scene, this is what I do. Even if I take the whole damn day, I’ll stare at the screen until I have five words. And I’ll keep doing it until I have a completed scene.

There was one scene, in the original draft of Crimson Prince (way back in 2017), where I thought a scene was terrible because I had to force it out. But then I read through the book while editing, and the scene just fit. You can’t tell it took me five hours to write the original scene, and there was barely anything to tweak.

(And now I can’t tell, or remember, which scene it was.)

I keep telling my mother, “You can’t polish a turd if there’s no turd to polish.”

You can put it off and put it off, but you have to write the book at some point. That’s what writing sprints are for. That’s why I keep competing in NaNoWriMo. I write and I write, and maybe I’ll lose momentum after the thirty days, but that’s at least half the book completed.

You can’t polish a turd of a first draft if you don’t have a completed turd to polish with edits and revision.

If you want to finish your novel, you’ll simply have to write it.

5. Walk Away for A Bit.

It seems counterproductive. Why would you walk away from a project you want to finish? And after I’ve just said to do it anyway, too.

The answer is simple.

Give yourself breathing space.

Take a walk in your local park to clear your head.

Come back in five minutes with a cup of tea.

When you come back, it will be with fresh eyes and a new perspective. Distancing yourself from a problem isn’t surrendering to it. It’s a tactical move to retreat to a better vantage point.

Take your time, your draft will still wait for you tomorrow.

If completing a first draft (and editing the first draft) is a war, then writing and/or editing sprints are battles. You can’t win every battle, sometimes you just have to walk away to recuperate.

Writing a novel is a marathon. No-one’s denying that. You can’t finish your novel if you’re charging full steam ahead. This isn’t a ten-metre sprint. Continuing to plough right on through until you’ve finished your novel is likely going to make you burn out.

Take breaks, put your mental health first. When you return well-rested and armed with a strong mug of coffee, you’ll get more done than if you’d forced something unwilling to come.

And, even if you take years, at least you got there with your brain intact at the end.

Why should you listen to me? How will this help me finish my novel?

The quick answer is, you don’t have to. Everything I say is subject to interpretation.

You don’t have to do everything on the list if it doesn’t suit you. You might pick one or two items and call it done when it doesn’t work the way you wanted it to.

It’s taken me over a decade to complete my first novel, and even then it was another two years before I completed my second.

The point I’m making is, what works for me won’t always work for you.

Give one of these things a try, you never know if it will be the one to help you finish your novel.