How to Finish That Novel

how-to-finish-a-novelQ: I am a working mom and frustrated writer. I have been writing a story for several months, but now find myself stuck. I know what the story is about, I have a very detailed and a clear mental image of the characters in my head. I am currently in the process of fleshing out the story, but what next? I don’t know anything about getting into this field, and outside of college, have never written such a long and involved story. What advice and directions can you suggest to a writing virgin? —Val M

A: At one time or another, all writers would probably describe themselves as “frustrated” by the writing process. With writer’s block, computer malfunctions, Twitter, kids, and Tetris all clamoring for our attention, it’s hard to pen a short story, let alone a novel. But if you’re serious about writing you’ll make it work. Here are some tips on finishing that novel.

First, evaluate your daily schedule. Find at least 15 minutes of every day—that’s right, every day—to dedicate to writing. Whether it means you have to wake up 15 minutes earlier, go to bed 15 minutes later, eat lunch faster, take a notepad into the bathroom—whatever it takes, you have to make time to write. It’s the one and only definitive prerequisite to being a writer.

[Here’s a great article on how to structure a killer novel ending.]

Next, take the first two weeks of that time to organize your notes. Evaluate them. Put them in order. Improve them. Some writers will write the beginning and last lines of each chapter, forcing themselves to have start and stop points. This also can keep you on track and help you forward along your novel. You can make adjustments as necessary, but this way you’ll always know where to start and where you need the story to go—which will help keep writer’s block at bay (or in the back room playing the Tetris game you’re successfully ignoring).

And finally, just write. Don’t worry about quality. Don’t worry about grammar or style. Don’t worry about agents or publishers. Don’t worry about anything except telling your story. Second and third drafts are for editing, rewriting and polishing. First drafts are for getting the stories out of your head and onto paper.

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Brian A. Klems is the editor of this blog, online editor of Writer’s Digest and author of the popular gift book Oh Boy, You’re Having a Girl: A Dad’s Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.

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5 thoughts on “How to Finish That Novel

  1. Becks_227

    I enjoyed the input here, but I feel like she was not asking how to write her novel but how to “complete” her novel (i.e. How to plan ahead, how to move on to the next step of getting it off her computer and published …a clearer understanding of what to expect next — after the “write, write, write”).

    For example, I’m in the same boat (frustrated new writer with a first draft of a first novel in hand) and the questions I have are– After I polish and complete it, should I be planning to send it to an editor first, or should I try to find an agent first to help me with that, or do I just send it to a publisher first? (Do I even need an agent? Does it help or hinder my time/returns on the whole process?) Does it cost money to hire an agent before I am published? My understanding is that they shop it around to publishers and appropriate professional contacts on my behalf — correct? Is it worth it in terms of my time and money to chance the middleman until I am a professional author, or should I take a chance as an unknown and just start sending it directly to publishers who are open to submissions and support my genre? (Also, because I am Canadian, must I stick to Canadian agents and publishers only, or are publishing borders typically open?)

    I think we all understand the “write write write” part, but I’d bet there are many who get frustrated or lost in the maze of stand alone information about the industry itself. Step by step, what’s the big picture and how does it tie together?

    Would appreciate a WD article on this. Also, thanks in advance to the forum for any and all responses.

  2. plumage

    This is par for the course, Mid-novel blues. The novel will turn into a mess. There will be bits that don’t seem to fit and you will feel like you are knitting a sweater full of holes with three different sleeves of different lengths. The novel can seem more like doing a very hard sum rather than a fun creative exercise you look at it despair and give up for another day. This middle bit is like hitting the wall on a marathon, you have to push through until you get your second wind.
    At this stage you need Faith. Faith that if you write enough and change enough you will end up with a coherent story in the end. Experienced novelists know this, but it can be hard to believe that your own messy novel isn’t the exception to the rule. Until you have a full map you can’t plan a sensible route though the territory so keep writing all the bits in between and eventually it will start to become a bit clearer and you will be able to make decisions about what to keep and what to throw away (you will have this problem even if you started with a pretty good outline). For this reason I don’t even worry about the quality of the writing until after the first draft. Much of my text is he said, she said and actions. I save the poetry for later drafts because there is nothing worse that having to throw away a beautiful bit of prose you worked on for ages because it doesn’t fit anymore.

  3. cecalli

    I believe that you should transform into your characters, feel them, smell the, focus even in the tiniest zit they have. You don’t need to describe that but as knowing how they feel, think and every detail of them you can let them behave naturally through your story. The same happens with the places, the situations, the problems they face. You must have a skeleton of your plot and move your characters along that and you’ll see your book flows naturally. 😉 Hope this works!

  4. tdm4him

    Thank you Brian & Sassy –
    I too am an aspiring writer; have had one story published, and have a few more submitted! Your words of wisdom are greatly appreciated. Another thing that has helped me – I have found a writing group in my community.We meet once a month, to share what we have been up to, and learn new techniques, and most importantly we write! The encouragement we receive form each other keeps us inspired to keep writing.
    When I first logged onto Writers digest and saw the free write….Oh my I signed up right away, they are my favorite – gets my creative juices flowing. We do the same thing in our group – we each take a turn coming up with the topic, and then we have 10 minutes to come up with something creative.
    Keep Writing!!!

  5. sassy

    Val M – Brian’s advice is golden! Write, write, write. Get it down on paper or in your word processor! Worried about plot? Check out google: key words: story arc, character arc, plot arc. These are diagrams that help a newbie ‘see’ a story line, character line, etc. Check out “The hero’s journey” to help your protagonist (main character) ‘see the light and change his/her life. This works no matter the genre (don’t know genre, google again). Writer’s Digest sells a multitude of books about writing. Some are ‘bundled.’ Good advice on just about any writing subject you can imagine. Best wishes, live your dream.


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