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  • Andrea Max

10 Tips to Help You Finish Your Novel

The first step to writing a book is...writing the book. And it's not as easy as it looks. Here are 10 tips that worked for me:


1. Embrace that it will be difficult


The fact is that writing a book is hard, but knowing what to expect will make it easier. Often times the beginning is the easiest. The first thirty thousand words or so may flow smoothly while the inspiration is fresh. But thinking it will remain easy is a trap. If you can only write when the inspiration is there, you won't get through an entire book. You wouldn't expect to run a marathon right away and find it easy, so don't expect to write a novel without breaking a sweat. When a rough patch hits, you may be tempted to give up, or switch to a shiny new idea (that won't stay shiny and new forever!) But if you're aware that it's part of the process that all writers go through, it's easier to get past. Remember, in many ways, your first book will be the hardest one you ever write because, besides for not knowing what you're doing, you don't yet know what you're capable of. So when the rough patches do arise, push through and find out what you're capable of.


2. Draft, don't polish


Do not expect to get it right on the first go. If you sit trying to polish each sentence and paragraph before you move forward...you will never move forward. Your first draft is just a sketch; you need to experiment with your story and find out what it is. Get the story out of your head and onto the page, and worry about making it good later. Don't stall to think of the perfect name, the perfect word, the perfect quippy response. Brackets to the rescue! If you're not sure about something, put a note in brackets to deal with it later and move forward.


There are those who will say that you should never edit at all until you complete your draft. This is a very sound rule, but I break it all the time, so I can't force you to follow it. However, definitely don't spend too much time perfecting anything because, the fact is, during revision, you will inevitably be doing a lot of rewriting, so don't bother polishing prose that might get chopped.


3. Play mind games with yourself


Novel writing is a long and arduous journey, but hacking your brain can help you. Different writers will require different--often contradictory--mind games to manipulate their progress. My first mind game was telling myself that, "You don't need to write a great book, just an okay book." Without fail, ever time I began thinking that maybe my book had the potential to be something special, my progress froze. I was stymied by my desire to get it just right. But whenever I remembered that I just needed to write something "good enough," I was able to move forward.


My next mind game involved lying to myself. The publishing industry is extremely competitive. The chances of a writer finding an agent for the first novel they write, never mind getting a book deal, are slim. But knowing that truth made it difficult for me to put in the effort for fear it would be a waste of time. If I had thought that there was a chance my book would flop, I don't think I could have finished it. So I told myself, "Of course your book will get an agent and get published. It will probably be a bestseller and even be made into a movie!" In all honesty, I don't need the accolades, just a book deal would be enough, but the possibility of wild success was a big motivator for me.


I have friends who tell themselves the exact opposite of this--that it doesn't matter if their book doesn't sell because they are writing for love of the craft. That doesn't work for me, but it might work for you. You need to know the way your mind works in order to trick it. Figure out what personally holds you back, and lie to yourself however you have to.


4. Make time


Just you wait, the moment you start telling people that you are writing a book, you're going to start to hear, "I would write a book too if I had the time." This is false. Nobody has the time. The people who end up writing books are those who make the time. It's human nature that we find ways to prioritize the things that are important to us. Most novelists have full time jobs other than writing. I personally wrote my first novel with a more-than-full-time job and a newborn. If you can't possibly think about how to carve out writing time then ask yourself: How much time do you spend binging shows? Scrolling social media? Gaming? I'm not saying to ditch all forms of relaxation and self-care, those are necessary for writing too, but perhaps some diminishment is in order.


If you have something important to accomplish, you find ways to shuffle your schedule. You wake up early or go to bed late or say no to recreation. You have to think about writing as something that has to get done, otherwise it won't get done. It may be a hobby, but it's also hard work.


When I wrote my first book, the biggest sacrifice was television. As in, I completely gave it up. I also often said no to social opportunities. I wrote almost every evening, and even sometimes during my lunch breaks. But I was never willing to give up my mornings and evenings with my kid, or my reading time. As a teacher, I couldn't ever write during report card season. Sure, my house was a mess and my friends were annoyed I never hung out with them. But I wrote my book, and for me, that was worth it.


You may legitimately not have the ability to prioritize writing right now, and that's okay, just make sure that you're not making excuses. Because some of you are. Know what's real and what's an excuse. And be aware that if you keep waiting for "the right time," it will likely never come.


5. Find a writing community


It is possible to write a book as a solitary activity in total isolation. But it's not the most effective way. Writing friends will transform your experience. A writing community will give you encouragement, accountability, knowledge about the industry, and feedback on your work. It can also provide important networking connections for later on in your career.

You're going to inevitably need feedback on your book--cheerleaders, critique partners, and beta readers--and your immediate writing community will likely be your first port of call.


Where to find community? Start by finding out if you have friends who are also writers. From there, seek out local writing groups. Then try the internet. I personally had the most success in meeting writing friends using Facebook groups, but Twitter, Reddit, and Discord can also be good places to try.


If you can't find a writing group to join, make one! A group that meets regularly, even just on Zoom, will help you build your writing practice and keep you immersed in your story. It can be a critique group, an accountability group, or even just a group of people who are coming together to carve out time to do nothing but write.


That being said, you can't rely on others to keep you motivated. You need to maintain an individual writing practice, because inevitably, writing groups will fall apart or your friends will lose their momentum and motivation, and if you're relying on them, your own progress will stall.


6. Study the craft of writing


If you're a natural storyteller as many writers are, chances are that a lot of story craft comes to you naturally. Yet there are likely still many areas where you can improve. As someone who has critiqued a lot of manuscripts, I would say that it takes most writers a while to master plot structure and scene weaving. Studying these areas of craft will not only help you level up your writing, but will also help you move forward when you're stuck.


Some people fear craft advice as they think it is too "formulaic" and will lead to stale stories. But this, in my opinion, is untrue. Understanding that all bread needs flour as a basic ingredient doesn't mean all bread will be the same, it just means that it will come out as...bread. There are some things that all, or at least most, stories need to be a fulfilling story.


One of my favorite books to recommend to all writers is Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody. If you're having trouble moving forward or losing your sense of direction, pick up a copy or find a different craft book or class that can help you shape your story.


7. Research the process of publication


Knowing what comes after you complete your book makes it easier to finish since the next steps feel real and possible instead of mysterious. Not only that, but being aware of the industry can help you avoid common mistakes early on such as writing a book that doesn't meet market expectations. For example, knowing the expected word count range for your genre will save you from writing something wildly too long or too short. Do the research while you're still writing and editing your book so once it's complete, you'll be ready to move forward. This might also be the stage where you look into the difference between self publishing and traditional publishing (which have very different paths).


For traditional publication, after you have made your manuscript as polished as you can with the help of critique partners and beta readers, you will have to find an agent who will then submit your book for consideration to publishers. The process of querying agents is a difficult and competitive process and is a great place to start your research journey.


For a comprehensive view of the entire traditional publication process, I recommend the Track Changes podcast series by First Draft. Another way to learn about different aspects of the industry is by joining online writing communities. There is an endless amount of valuable information abounding online--but beware, there is also a lot of bad advice, not to mention people looking to scam you for money. If you are traditionally publishing, everything beyond the hardware and software you use to write your book should be free.


8. Read current books in your genre


This is twofold. First of all, reading in the genre you are (or want to be) writing in will inspire you. It will help you see what tropes you enjoy and what clichés you hate. You'll pick up on what works and what very much does not work. Additionally, it will help you shape your book into the accepted and expected genre conventions for your audience. When it comes to market conventions, it is important that you are reading current books and not just classics. Expectations shift over time, and a lot of what sold fifteen years ago would not sell now.


As an added bonus, later in the process, when querying agents and submitting to publishers, you will need to be able to list comparison titles for your book to show that an audience exists for it in the market. Getting to know your genre now will help you prepare for that later.


9. Plan your story


Yes...this section will apply to you even if you're a "pantser". In fact, I identify as a discovery writer myself. But if you do zero planning, you're likely to get stuck or go off the rails. We are often excited by one aspect of a story and can sit and write a few chapters fueled by that excitement alone. But an individual premise/setting/character does not a novel make. If you don't take the time to map out your ideas--turning on your headlights, so to speak--you'll be constantly pulling over, lost in the dark without direction. You don't have to outline your entire book, but you should have a sense of the main conflict that is linked to the character and setting. You should know what your character wants and the stakes if they don't get it.


Pausing your writing to do some research can be a great way to get out of a rut because you may find a cool idea that will tie some other loose ends together! Just be wary of when research can become its own form of procrastination.


10. Sit your butt down and write



Of everything on this list, this is the most obvious. And the most difficult. This was honestly the advice I needed before I finally started taking my book seriously. The fact is, your book will not get written unless you sit down and write it. You can think about it all you want, buy bookish items, make a cute writing space, talk about writing with other writers. But none of that is writing. Research, world building, playlists, staring at a blank page thinking about what you want to write--none of these things will put words on a page. Only putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and spilling out the words will make a book happen. Just start! And then, continue! A few days off can quickly spiral into a multiple months hiatus. The more days in a row that you take off from writing, the harder it will be to get back into your story when you come back. Stay immersed, and the story will flow more easily, ideas will be cranking along in your subconscious, and you will eventually finish. The more consistently you write, the more it will begin to become part of your routine, and the words will start to come more naturally, even when the muse isn't sitting on your shoulder.


Now get outta' here and go write!