Writing a novel is hard. Really hard. For some lucky authors, words spring forth from their fingertips and dance across the screen with effortless ease, but for others — that is, most of us — it’s a monumental task that will likely leave you pulling your hair out, pondering the meaning of existence, and basically questioning your own sanity.
Is it really that bad? No. Well, maybe.
Before we begin, let’s get real — for every book you see on the shelves, there’s probably a thousand or more unfinished drafts sitting in drawers or gathering pixel dust in long forgotten desktop folders. These were all undoubtedly started with the best of intentions, but somewhere along the way the authors of these forsaken manuscripts either lost focus, patience, or simply collided into that dreaded wall of self-doubt. How do you ensure your story doesn’t go the same way?
Well, if you’re contemplating writing a novel of your own, one of the main questions you’ll likely be asking yourself is if you have the fortitude to stick it out. You might also be asking if anyone would ever want to read your writing, or if you have a story that’s even worth telling. This is all completely normal. In fact, it would be highly unusual if your inner critic hadn’t already taken up permanent residence on your shoulder and wasn’t constantly trying to make you doubt yourself. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but as someone who’s been gone down this tunnel and come out the other side, allow me to impart some tips that might help get you in the right headspace to prepare you for the journey ahead.
The first thing you need to do is adjust your thinking. We live in a society full of instantaneous reward. Food delivered to our doorsteps. Shows binged all at once. Immediate gratification via social media. We’re hardwired to be impatient, which means a total shift in mindset is required when contemplating the months — sometimes years — that are involved in completing a full-length work of fiction. And because it can seem like such a daunting undertaking, one common pitfall new writers make is to start obsessively fixating on the end. I used to be guilty of this myself. There were times when writing my own novel when I would plot my progress in a spreadsheet and set word count goals, continuously focusing on how far I was from the finish line. There’s nothing inherently wrong with setting targets — and for many it does help — but be sure the pressure you’re putting yourself under to meet these targets isn’t at the expense of the quality of your writing. A mountaineer climbing Everest doesn’t make the ascent with one eye fixed on the peak. Their focus is on the ground, on traversing each crevasse, climbing the next ridge. There’s no shortcut to the summit, so the best thing you can do for your story — and for your development as a writer — is to adopt a Zenlike state of being. Be present with your manuscript. Put your focus and energy onto the page that you’re working on. Treat each passage and scene with the respect it deserves, not just as mere steppingstones. You’re embarking on a long journey and there’s going to be plenty to learn along the way, so don’t try and hurry it along. Be patient, surrender to the process, and commit to doing the best work you can each time you sit down at your desk. If you can do that, you might be surprised how fast the end does come.
Most importantly, remember to be kind to yourself. The process can be incredibly rewarding and there’ll be plenty of highs to celebrate, but there will also be moments when you’re staring into the abyss and contemplating why you ever began this juggernaut of a task in this first place. It’s in these moments where you’ll need to be extra vigilant, particularly when your inner critic rears their ugly head and tries to dent your confidence. Don’t help them along by comparing your working draft to someone else’s polished, finely tuned book, or do things like zip around the internet and start feeling down when you see how many words one of your writer friends knocked out in a 2-hour sprint. This isn’t a competition. Everyone has their own technique and a method that works for them. Whether you’re a panster or a plotter, someone who enjoys writing fast, or someone who enjoys spending the better part of a day deciding on the correct placement of a comma, it’s all good. By the time you’re done and readers are swept up in your story, no one is going to notice or care that you spent four days at your wits end agonizing over that second paragraph on page 139. Realize from the outset that writing is a uniquely personal experience. Your only goal is to find your own writing mojo — a rhythm and a process that works for you.