Top 10 (Normal) Struggles When Writing a Novel

Writing a novel isn’t the easiest thing to do. In fact, it takes hard work, dedication and the ability to occasionally ignore Facebook. But when you’re struggling, it’s important to know you’re not alone. Here are 10 common challenges most of us writers have to deal with from time to time. How many of these sound familiar to you? [Click here to Tweet and share with other writers who can commiserate!]

1. You find yourself in the throes of a title dilemma

Like every author on the planet, I’ve spent endless hours mulling over title options for my work. One strives, of course, to be both memorable and honestly descriptive of the content. But then, by and large, a great title is an art form unto itself and a great title does not necessarily signify a great book.


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2. You get 100 pages in a novel and suddenly decide you’re tossing it all

This may seem insane but I normally know whether or not I am on to something good only after being 100 pages into a story. I’m willing to bet some of you go much farther.

3. Your friends think you’ve become a recluse because you spend so much time at your writing desk.

I’m usually very regimented about my writing schedule and typically wake up at about 5 a.m. and start writing until 10 a.m. There have been times, however, where I’ve spent an entire day in my study working on a novel. Little do these friends know the kind of dynamic journey writers go on in their work.

[Did you know there are 7 reasons writing a novel makes you a badass? Read about them here.]

4. Choosing between creativity and money.

We don’t live by money alone. For those who aspire to the high art of literary writing, similarly to painters, composers, musicians, and others who prize, above all, discovering insight into the human condition, we will always put creation over the clink of coinage (or at least find a clever way to bridge the gap).


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5. Sometimes you spend a lot more time researching for your story than you do writing.

Actually, this isn’t really a struggle but I’m leaving it in. When I was working on TARGET CHURCHILL, I spent months reading memoirs by Winston Churchill among other historical documents. It was all grist for the novelist’s mill. My research led to new characters and sub-plots. It was all so rich and intriguing that I could have spent a lifetime on the topic.

6. You have a lot of trouble trying to decide how your novel will end.

Honestly, if I ever knew the ending of a novel in advance, I wouldn’t write it. The way in which I write is to let my characters come alive in my head and interact with each other, create conflict with each other, and work out their own destinies. I know this sounds out there but writers will know what I’m talking about.

[Understanding Book Contracts: Learn what’s negotiable and what’s not.]

7. There are times when you can’t sleep at night because you’re constantly thinking about what the next page in your story will be.

Sound familiar? There’s nothing wrong with a smidgen of insomnia for the sake of your writing. It’s a kind of rites of passage for the dedicated novelist. I am always writing a story in my head, keeping a log of ideas that pop up. I find that the best thing to do is keep a notepad or journal near you so you can jot thoughts down, otherwise you’ll just end up more frustrated that you can’t get it out of your head and onto paper.

8. Editors start changing and omitting parts of your story that you think should be left in.

One of the reasons I went independent was because I could not stand editors who took it upon themselves to essentially bulldoze entire sections of my work that I’d spent a lot of painstaking time on. I am always weary of this. I would rather make my own mistakes than have someone else make them for me.

9. You’re CONSTANTLY rewriting!

Well, I firmly believe that the key to good writing is rewriting. When I write a novel I go back to it every single day and I try to produce at least 5 pages. I’ll write 5 pages one day then go back the next day, start from the beginning and rewrite. I’ve managed 39+ novels so evidently this isn’t such a bad process.

[How Long Should Novel Chapters Be? Click here to find out.]

10. You know all too well what it’s like to get lost in your characters, in fact, sometimes your characters get out of line and start going off on tangents.

If this doesn’t happen to you at some point then something must be wrong. Naturally, I become heavily invested in the characters I create, what they think, how they act, what they wish for, their passions, their emotional lives, their angst, their sexuality, their inner hungers and desires. They find internal expression in my third person style of writing and It becomes necessary to curb my imagination at times. You’re probably wondering what those tangents sound like (that’s for another blog).

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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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9 thoughts on “Top 10 (Normal) Struggles When Writing a Novel

  1. miketom

    I write with an ending in mind, and I’ll even draft it, but my characters get hold of the story and go off wherever they want, changing it in some ways. I feel l like they’re telling me the story, and I’m just trying to write it all down.

  2. sinkwriter

    I can understand the questioning of #6, mainly because I often start out with an ending in mind.

    However… what I often find is that by the time I get to the end of the story, something has changed that causes me to throw out my original “plan” for the ending because writing the journey of the character has brought me to a better idea that fits the character as I’ve gotten to know him or her.

    In fact, there was a short story I got stuck on for months because I had a plan for it — the character would go through A, B, C and D moments/sections before reaching his big revelation. And I wrote steadily up to moment C… and couldn’t get past it, through it, you name it, I couldn’t finish writing that seemingly inconsequential moment to get to the big thing in moment D. I just wanted to finish writing that part as foundation for the big moment and move on to writing the big stuff. But I couldn’t do it. It just wasn’t working.

    I finally had to step away from the piece for about 6 months because I just couldn’t figure out what was wrong and why I was stuck. When I revisited the piece after that break, I let go of preconceived notions and re-read the entire thing up to the stuck point. And then I realized, oh my gosh, there IS no moment D. The big reveal should happen during moment C, when he’s least expecting it! That’s why it will have the bigger emotional impact on him. That’s why it matters. It creeps up on him and smacks him in the face when he’s doing something seemingly inconsequential.

    If I had skipped over moment C or treated it as nothing and instead gone with the big reveal during section D, the story would likely have felt more cliched. The idea I originally had WAS more cliched. But by embracing a different direction than originally planned, I think the story ended up much better than I ever could have plotted out at the start.

    I think that’s where I get what Warren Adler is saying. Sometimes the characters take you places you don’t plan and it’s important to let go of your tight hold and go with it because it’s right for the character.

    1. Warren Adler

      Sinkwriter, thank you for stopping by and commenting. What a through breakdown of your experience you’ve given here! I find it pretty amazing that for 6 months you managed to step away from the short story you were writing – I’m happy to know you understand what i am getting at when it comes to the connection between plot and character.

  3. meyerbran

    This was an excellent article! Definitely justified some of the issues I’ve been having. Most notably, number #10 (Getting lost in characters), which then leads to #7 and losing sleep because of them! It’s a good problem to have. 🙂

  4. hromito

    I find #6 to be absolutely not true for me. When I write a book, it’s usually WITH the end in mind, and I have to figure out how my characters end up there. So I unravel the journey that takes them to the end place I have in mind, I guess. My characters still get to discover each other, create conflict, but there’s still an end goal I’m working to.

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