12 Tips for Finishing Your Novel

Picture of funky colored leaves (pink and purple) with the text "Write a Novel" overlaid on top of it.

In honor of Preptober, below is a list of solutions to the major problems writers face while drafting:

  1. Choose one story. Working on one story cuts down on the time needed to refocus and makes it easier to achieve depth. To choose the right story, freefall write (i.e., stream of conscious) your thoughts on all your stories. Consider what’s holding you back from continuing in some of them. Choose the one you’re a) most excited about and b) feel you can take on the issues that come with it.
  2. Eliminate FOMO (‘fear of missing out’). This happens when you feel like the story you chose might be keeping you from writing another one that could’ve been better for you. This type of thinking occurs when you’ve hit a rough patch in your current WIP or right at the starting gates if you’re someone who has an abundance of ideas that are all equally fantastic. The best way to eliminate this type of thinking is to think the following instead: “No matter what I choose, I am going to be able to make this a great story.” – Sarra Cannon.
  3. Choose the time, place & duration of your work session. Set your writing session as the first thing you do in the morning. Determine the amount of time you will write every day. Consistency is more important, so set an amount you can commit to every day for the next 30 days, even if it’s just 15 minutes a day (or less). Don’t allow yourself to do anything else until you’ve put in that time. Wrap it all up in an implementation intention statement (try saying that 3 times fast): “For the next 30 days, at 6 AM, I will work on [WIP] at my desk for 30 minutes every day and will not do anything else until I’ve put in that time.”
  4. Don’t set word count goals. I know this is going against the main objective of NaNoWriMo, but not its essence. NaNoWriMo is about showing up and working on your story everyday, without editing. One way to do that is to lower your standards and focus on getting the words out. Another way is to show up and move your story forward in any way, but still without stopping to edit. That could consist of anything. You may need to stop and organize because you’re stuck or lost. You may need to do research (buffer for this in #9 below). You may need to resolve problems in your plot in order to move forward. All that is necessary and having a word count goal can stifle you or place unnecessary pressure. (Note: If you’re concerned about slowing down or even stalling because you’re using time instead of words as your metric, please take heart that word count isn’t the only way to ensure you make progress on a story. Another way to make sure you keep moving forward is to break your story down into stages, as described in #5.)
  5. Break it into stages. Writing a novel is a massive undertaking and the only way to feel like you’re making progress is to break it down into stages: Stage 1: write out everything you know about the story off the top of your head (it can be out of order). Stage 2: organize. Stage 3: fill in the holes. Stage 4: flesh it out. Stage 5: let it sit (for a month). Stage 6: perform a large edit (i.e., look at the overall logistical issues). Stage 7: complete line edits & polish it up. As you go through each stage, take time to stop and take note, so that you can see the progress you’ve made.
  6. Know that there will always be that 10 minutes of awkwardness at the start of each session when you’re trying to re-enter your story world. Even Stephen King experienced it. The way to expedite re-entry would be to retell the story to yourself off by memory or set a timer and free-fall into the story. Say you don’t know what to say, ask the questions you have about the story, ask yourself what would be a cool thing to happen in the story.
  7. Do whatever it takes to move things forward in your story. Write out of order. If you’re stuck, retell the story to yourself. Free-fall your thoughts. Follow your emotions. Write the scenes that come vividly to you, don’t worry about how it fits. Write your questions about the story within the story. You’ll find that your subconscious will work on it in the background so that when you come back to it, you’ll have the answers. Don’t look back (if you’re be prone to editing). Look back and organize (if you’re stuck). Think up a subplot. Use placeholders for character names, places, scenes. If you think of something that needs to have seeds planted in previous scenes, write it in now as if it’s already been planted, make note of which scenes it needs to be mentioned in (or just the fact that it needs to be mentioned) and keep moving forward.
  8. If you’re confused about which road to take, think of it like you’re playing sudoku. You have to set down the number that you know for sure—without the shadow of a doubt—will appear in a box. Initially, when the grid is empty, some boxes can have multiple possibilities which makes it difficult to choose. But if you follow the rules, you can figure out which number belongs in a particular box. Then you can follow that number through the board to figure out all its other placements until you reach a point where you can’t tell with 100% certainty that it would belong in a particular box. You would then have to set that number aside, choose the next number and go through the same process. Similarly, when writing a story, you would write down all your major scenes, the ones that must occur for the story to work. Then you would choose a major scene and write out all scenes that would have to occur because of that scene (i.e., all the scenes that lead up to and occur as a result of that major scene). Keep going until you’ve filled in all the ‘boxes on the grid’ (i.e., filled up all the holes/gaps in your plot).
  9. Never spend more than a week researching one aspect. If after a week you still don’t have all the answers you need, place it on hold and go back to your story. Complete one week of writing before you can go back to researching again.
  10. Write the bare minimum needed to get the point across. Put enough words down to get the key feelings out and move on. Perfectionism doesn’t have to be a thing.
  11. Write every story to the end, even if it’s just one sentence per scene just to finish it off. Finishing a story, even in a half-assed way, gives you access to insights you never would have had otherwise. It increases your skillset and boosts your confidence. It is in your best interest to do whatever it takes to tell your story from start to finish.
  12. Finishing one draft will help you tackle the next one better and faster. Because now you will know how to approach your next idea right from the start. You’ll know exactly what steps to take. You’ll have figured out a strategy that works best for you. But to get there, you must write. And you must finish what you write.

Sources:

  1. How To Choose Your Best Story Idea (And Stick To It) \\ PREPTOBER 2021 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RvwaDPOiboE
  2. How To Join NaNoWriMo (And Win!) \\ Preptober 2021
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JhM9772v3gk
  3. Fast Drafting Tips! | What is a Zero Draft?
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6vkID_7K0f4
  4. Margaret Atwood’s MasterClass
    https://www.masterclass.com/guest-pass/7c61eM3wxNzAzNzg5fDF8MXw3Nnx8MTU4OA==?utm_content=Share_Copy&utm_medium=web&utm_source=Organic-Social-PR
  5. 5 tips for FAST DRAFTING a novel for NANOWRIMO + why fast drafting is so valuable! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AK7wXULAdRA&t=471s
  6. Why You Haven’t Finished Your First Draft…(+ Tips)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pc_Iu_qMHJw
  7. How Stephen King Wrote Some of His BEST BOOKS! | Top 10 Rules https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f_Bh-yNpUpI&t=490s
  8. How to Edit: First Read Through
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0fyTSoHcoFc