So you’ve started writing a novel. Maybe you took the plunge after years of dreaming about getting your brilliant idea down in book form. Maybe you participated in November’s NaNoWriMo competition. Maybe you’ve unearthed an incomplete manuscript on your laptop. Whatever the case may be, perhaps the most important (and difficult) part of writing a novel is… finishing it.
At this year’s Hal-Con, I attended a panel with the modern master of urban fantasy, author Charles de Lint, about how to do just that: finish your novel. With over seventy titles to his name, including books in The Borderland Series and The Newford Series, Charles de Lint is a seasoned pro at how to finish a project. Although, he admits, it is still a struggle. Every. Single. Time.
Below are some practical tips for how to reach the end of your writing project. Keep in mind, these tips are designed for writers struggling to complete their first draft. Once that is done, a whole new (and challenging) series of deadlines, self-doubt, and struggles begin. It’s called editing. But don’t think about that now. First, you’ve got to finish. Here is Charles de Lint’s best advice for how to finish your novel:
Perhaps the most repeated (and most ignored) piece of writing advice is to write everyday. Not every other day, not every weekend. Every. Single. Day. This helps keep the mind well-primed and the writing muscle strong. Keep in mind that this step isn’t meant to be easy. It is hard, sometimes nearly impossible, to set aside time to write. You have kids, you have a dog, you have responsibilities. But, according to Charles de Lint, writing for 10 to 15 minutes per day is better than binge-writing on the weekends. Working everyday keeps the story alive in your head. Writing is all about having (or developing) the discipline to finish a story. So, if you’re serious about writing… find the time to write.
Protect Your Writing Bubble
Once you’ve set aside time to write, set firm boundaries around your writer’s bubble. Explain to your family that this is “your time” and that you should not be disturbed. Set rules and boundaries for your creative time and don’t compromise on them. Do not allow for interruptions. Let the dog out or make your phone call before you sit down to write. Read your kids Go The F*ck To Sleep well in advance of your creative time. Again, writing requires discipline and dedication. And if writing at home provides too many distractions, go to a coffee shop. It can also help to turn off the Internet for awhile. Think of yourself as sitting inside an insulated bubble – nothing gets in, nothing gets out. This is your time. Make the most of it.
Create Writing Habits
Humans are creatures of habit. Try to achieve a certain level of consistency with your everyday writing habits. Develop a routine. This might include writing in the same spot every day (your bubble). Maybe you have a favourite tea or coffee you like to enjoy during your writing time. Maybe you have a favourite playlist you listen to. Whatever your habits are, consistency helps tell your brain when it’s time to write.
Don’t Self Edit
Self-editing is a huge problem. Resist the temptation to edit as you go. Even correcting spelling errors can interrupt your flow. Push through to the end of your story first. Only then should you go back and edit. Along the same lines, Charles de Lint says you should never stop your writing session at a natural pause in the story. If you do, it can make it all the more difficult to start up again the next day. Instead, stop writing mid-scene, mid-paragraph, or even mid-sentence so that you can easily pick up from where you left off the day before.
Channel the Fear
Charles de Lint calls fear the “goblin on your shoulder.” The goblin likes to mock you during your creative time: he tells you to doubt yourself, that you’ll never finish, that your story sucks and you’re a terrible writer. Channel this fear. Embrace it. Accept the fact that your first draft sucks, because all first drafts do. (Seriously, repeat after me: “My first draft SUCKS!” Mine too. It’s liberating.) Giving yourself permission to fail helps you to push past the goblin on your shoulder. Pretty soon, like marathon runners, you’ll get your second wind.
Learn to trust yourself and your own voice. Whether you’re a pantser, plotter, or plantser, write whatever way works for you. And write in your own voice. Don’t try to be fancy. Write as if you’re telling the story to a friend. Write for yourself, not for hypothetical “readers.” (After all, you are your first reader.) Write what you want to read. Because you have good instincts and, chances are, other people with good instincts will want to read your work.
Imagine the Ending’s Emotions
When you begin to write a new story (or if you’re just picking it up again), try to imagine what you want readers to feel at the end of your novel. Will your story end on an uplifting note? An optimistic one? With hopelessness? Despair? Envisioning an emotional end point can help you wrap up your novel when you’re approaching the finish line.
So those are some tips and tricks from fantasy writer Charles de Lint to help you finish your novel. Most importantly, however, is to practice finishing things. If you don’t practice, you will never know how it feels to actually finish a project. This creates an endless (and frustrating) cycle of self-doubt and stagnation. If you hit a wall, push through it. Show the goblin on your shoulder who’s boss. And, when in doubt… believe in yourself.
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