Writing a novel requires a lot more stamina, discipline and perseverance than most people think. After all, how else can you sustain your enthusiasm and momentum for 75,000 words or more?
Writing a novel is a marathon, and while there may be stretches along the way where you feel like picking up speed or dragging your feet, no one can finish that marathon but yourself.
You can drop out, of course, but where’s the satisfaction in that? The only way to keep on keeping on is to develop some practices that, over time, become habits that can get you closer to finishing that novel at last.
1. Keep a diary
Record everything you see or hear or experience that strikes you. Record every little thought that comes to you. Record beautiful quotes, phrases, passages from books you love. Record your feelings, your dreams. Make lists. Because you never know when any of it might fit into your story, or what that conversation you overheard in Aisle 3 of the supermarket can grow into.
Keep a diary and take it everywhere with you. Stash it under your pillow when you sleep, because we all know that’s when the best ideas hit you. Don’t think that you’ll remember something, because you won’t. And you will kick yourself later for not writing it down.
2. Eliminate distractions
I know, I know. Easier said than done.
I find it hard to cut off completely too. You convince yourself you’ll get to writing after one more YouTube video, or a quick glimpse at your Tumblr dashboard. And pretty soon, you find that three hours have passed and you have nothing to show for it. Except for 53485436902834 new pins on Pinterest.
Sometimes, cutting off the Internet connection is a necessary evil, as is getting off Netflix (do you really need to go on another Gilmore Girls marathon?). Eye on the prize, folks.
3. Establish a routine
There are writers who write during the quiet hours of the night, and those who can only function in the middle of the day. Figure out when your most productive hour is, and for how long at a stretch you can write, and then stick to it. Consistency, as in a marathon, is key. Holding yourself accountable to your schedule helps to get you in the writing mood and mindset.
For my book, Lambs for Dinner, I wrote an average of 3,000 words each day, then planned out the next three chapters I was going to write the next day so I wouldn’t end up staring blankly at the computer screen.
4. That said, take breaks
No matter how much you love to write, you can’t sustain six straight hours of non-stop writing every day for months. Eventually, you’ll start to feel like you’re churning out the words just to clock in the word count. And how is that different from punching in and out at the office every day? Set aside time to breathe and be kind to yourself.
5. Keep reading
My solution to writer’s block (although some writers declare that there’s no such thing), apart from going for a long swim, is to read. When it seems like you can’t figure your way out of the tangle you wrote yourself into, it’s easy to slip into a funk and let your shoulder devil convince you that you’re a terrible writer and should just give up.
This is when a good book comes into handy. Go back to your favourite titles. Re-immerse yourself in them, and seek to understand why you love it, what is there in those stories that is missing in yours. Fall in love with words and stories and writing again.
6. Set goals
Word count is the easiest, most quantifiable way to keep track of your goals.
Do the math. How much can you write in a day, a week, a month? What’s a humanly possible number for you (never mind that there are writers out there who can clock 5K a day – that’s them, you’re you), factoring in your lifestyle and routine and commitments?
If you aim to finish that first draft in one month (NaNoWriMo was organised just for this), be prepared to devote at least two hours to pound out 3K words everyday.
7. Write freely
Don’t censor yourself when you are writing the first draft. Letting the words flow is the most freeing thing you can do for yourself and your manuscript. You will discover yourself, your true emotions and opinion on the subject matter, and what the story you really want to tell is.
There will invariably be bad writing days, corny dialogue and cliched plots. But get them out of the way, then rewrite them better. You’ve got this!