It's one problem to start a book, but quite another to finish it!
Many writers struggle with completing a project, but once you do that, you know you can do it again. I've written before about some ways to get the first draft out of your head. Today, Alythia Brown shares her tips.
You’re a writer. You were born with natural creativity.
Stories seamlessly fill your mind when you walk through parks, overhear conversations on the bus, or watch a plane shoot across the sky and wonder where each passenger is headed. Once daydreams run together to form the foundation for a novel, you’re overwhelmed with excitement and love for your new project. You stay up late to add more words to your ever-growing manuscript, while secretly dreaming of publisher bidding wars for your work.
But then something happens.
The romance wears thin. You hit a wall and your precious book becomes more tedious than fun. Breaking down the wall, instead of turning away from the project, is the difference between published and unpublished writers.
How can you tear down the wall?
1) Take a break from the manuscript but not from the world you’ve created.
We all need a little space from our writing when things become mundane. This allows us to return to the work with a fresh eye. However, you want to avoid forgetting the story altogether. Leave the manuscript in your computer for a few weeks and take it with you in a journal, instead. Take notes on the things you “see” happening in your story. You can even draw pictures in your journal, if that helps. Not only will this keep you engaged with the story, it will give you a different form of expressing your writing—with a pen or colored pencil in your hand instead of keys beneath your fingers.
2) Remove distraction whenever possible.
You may have long work hours or small children to care for, but you probably have more time than you realize. You really don’t need to watch the last season of The Bachelor if you have a spare moment. Writing time is more precious and you need to make it important. You will never look back and say to yourself, “Man, I wish I spent more time sitting on the couch, watching pointless shows.” Coincidentally, you will never regret writing either.
3) Go for a run.
Or a bike ride.
Something—anything—active to get your blood pumping and your energy up. And preferably outdoors. I doubt a gray gym building, buzzing with the drone of many cardio machines, will stimulate your imagination. But I suppose exercise somewhere is better than exercise nowhere. While you’re at it, go eat some spinach and drink plenty of water. Taking care of your body is also taking care of your mind! You will find you are more able to focus and complete tasks.
4) Set realistic goals for yourself.
You were going full steam in the beginning because you were excited. But you probably also shut yourself in a room and didn’t see daylight for a while. You can’t expect to write twenty manuscript pages every night. Believing so will only set you up to feel disappointed and unmotivated when life gets in the way of this demand. Pace yourself. Writing every day, even if you only manage to jot down notes during your ten-minute break at work, is admirable.
5) Skip a passage if it’s slowing you down.
If you just can’t figure out how to make a particular scene work, skip it, and return later. Don’t let it stop you! You will lose the desire to finish. Instead, highlight the problem area with color so it will pop out at you while scrolling through the pages. Often times, difficult questions are answered naturally when you move forward and look back. But be forewarned: if you do so, make sure you note all of the unsolved issues pertaining to this area. If there’s an important dilemma that needs to be addressed, type a list of questions your readers would ask at the bottom of the colored section so you don’t forget this loose end later. If you get too far into the novel without solving the problem, it may mess up everything.
6) Make writing exercises part of your daily habit.
Warm up your mind everyday with writing exercises to get your creativity awake and pulsing. Here are a few you could try:
- Write a journal entry from the perspective of one of your characters. Have them write about a day from their childhood or a recent day at work. This doesn’t need to make it into the final draft. It’s just a little something you can do to get to know the people in your story. Try this with everyone important and unimportant. It will help you become more familiar with the world in which your main character lives.
- Write a letter to a long lost friend. Maybe someone with whom you’ve lost contact and always intended to call. Use one piece of paper and don’t flip it over when you run out of room. Simply turn the paper another direction and continue writing over what you have already written. Continue turning and writing over your writing. Tell this person everything you never said or everything you wish you could say now. You will eventually get to the point where you can no longer visibly see what you have written and the words are only clear in your head. You will end up with a paper filled with swirls of ink and part of your heart poured onto the page. You won’t ever need to tear it apart if it’s incredibly private or vulnerable because only you will ever know what it says. When you can feel the words moving through your hand and onto the paper, but you can’t see them, you need not worry about penmanship or running out of room. You just need to worry about the words you may not have been able to free before now. Plus, it’s probably good therapy to get all of that off your chest!
- Write a newspaper article or flier your main character might happen to read. Is your hero on the run and reading his own wanted sign? What would people who don’t understand him say about the things he’s done? Or maybe the local press managed to publish one last article about local dogs going rabid right before the end of the Earth? Become a journalist for your make-believe world and report to your characters the pressing news.
The writing wall may take some time to tear down but if you continue to chisel away, eventually it will fall. You’ll find you won’t be able to type as quickly as the thoughts come into your head once more and, soon, the first draft of your novel will be complete and ready for edits.
Once you’ve tackled the huge accomplishment of finishing a novel, you will jump at the chance to edit and prepare the piece for the query process or self-publication. If you already have completed your novel but can’t find the motivation to return and edit, remember: you have already done something most people never will. Don’t give up now!
What usually stops you from writing? Please leave a comment below with your thoughts.
Alythia Brown is an author and young mother, who decided she wanted to pursue publication when she became pregnant as a teen. She blogs about books, publishing, literary agents, and the querying process at www.alythiabrown.com. Her debut novel, Dakota Captive will release this year!
Top image: Flickr Creative Commons writing and coffee by Philip Squires