There are two things people say to me when I tell them I’m professionally published:
- I could never do that.
- I have a great idea for a novel, well six ideas for six novels really, but I just can’t finish a whole book but let me pitch you this idea and tell me what you think…
And so on and so forth.
I think most people have this idea in their head that successful writers are brimming with inspiration 365 days a year and must funnel it down by putting pen to paper lest they explode with the burdens of creativity.
It’s all very Monmartre, isn’t it? Our glorious purpose as artists leaves us with the burden of our craft. Days of writer’s block, living on coffee, cigarettes and bits of Parisian cheese!
Sometimes I wish it were like that. But if you’re not living in Paris in the Impressionist era you’re in luck: you don’t have to be a starving, creative type to finish a book. You just have to have a good idea, a good work ethic, and follow these tips:
Ten Ways to Finish Writing a Novel
You want to write a whole book? Then you have to sit down and write.
BICHOK is the writing community’s acronym for Butt in Chair; Hands on Keyboard. And it’s the only true way to finish a novel. It’s the only true way to finish anything. You must carve out time to write.
Lack of time is the number one excuse I hear when people say they can’t get a book out. Listen, I know were all very busy, but regardless of being a CEO or a homemaker with five children under five, try to write something every single day.
Now Steven King BICHOKs ten pages a day minimum. What that means is he finishes a 100-page book in 10 business days. Wow. I can tell you most days it takes a village for me to get out one page of text let alone ten. But you should sit down and write as much as you can, even if it’s only fifteen minutes. Some days, you’ll get out five pages, other days a paragraph. But the book won’t get written unless you sit down and write it.
- Write an Outline.
You don’t need a hard outline to start writing, but having an idea of where you’re going can help you to prevent yourself from getting stuck down the road. I typically go into a novel knowing the beginning sequence (the call to action) and the climax of the story. The hard part is connecting those events.
As we learned in elementary school, every piece of literature has a story arc that builds until a climax of action. If you don’t know where your plot will end, you can start thinking of your characters on an individual basis. Remember they all have arcs themselves, an arc that maps a character’s journey through emotional growth or change as the events of the plot happen to them.
If you are stuck, start thinking about how your characters change and how they would make new decisions as they do so. You’ll need to think especially hard about your villain, as they drive a big part of the plot.
- Don’t Blame Writer’s Block
I’ll go ahead and say it: Writer’s Block doesn’t exist.
Writer’s Block is an excuse we use when we don’t make time to write, we don’t BICHOK and we try to write in sequential order.
That’s right, it’s your fault. And my fault. It’s all our fault.
When getting to the next part of the story feels like wading in molasses, skip it. Jump to the next section, jump to the climax, jump to a part you want to write and get to it. The important thing is getting some text out.
- Read ALL THE TIME
It’s quite simple: when you’re reading, you’re writing. I don’t know why, it’s science or something.
Engaging in literature is a surefire way to get the writing wheels turning. Ask any author.
- Find out where you draw inspiration: Use and Abuse it
I’d say I spend about half of my time with imaginary people. I like to be thinking about my writing all the time. Working? Novel. Showering? Novel. Noveling? NOVEL!
This makes me a crazy person. I recommend the crazy person route. Here’s why: the sad truth is inspiration does not come often. 99% of the time, I am not inspired.
Sure, I was inspired to write the story.
I was inspired for several great, epic scenes that control the plot of my story.
The rest of the time, you have to force it. Which is why I suggest documenting what exactly gave you that initial burst of inspiration and calling on it whenever possible.
For me: its music. I have a playlist for every story and every character I’ve ever written. I play that music everywhere I go, to bring that inspo-juice back to my brain. I suggest you do the same.
- DO NOT READ YOUR WRITING
Listen to me. Do not read what you’ve written until it is time to edit, or until SIGNIFICANT time has passed (a month at least). Every artist has taken a very serious break (some have quit) after reviewing what he or she has created.
One of them cut off his ear.
Do not be like Van Gogh. Do not read your writing. And remember: there is always someone better than you. Do not get discouraged.
- Write down your ideas as they come
My tech-savvy friends would have a fit: I keep my phone in the bathroom while I shower. Yes, alas, the steam. But it’s a place where writing breakthroughs often find me.
If you’re not phone friendly, get a notepad and carry it with you everywhere. You know remember that incredible scene you imagined up on the bus this morning?
I didn’t think so.
- Get hard headed- Say no to “Writer’s Porn”
This is my own way of saying: “Write drunk, edit sober.”
Do I really think Hemingway wrote drunk? No, of course not. I’ve tried and I don’t recommend it. What I think he really meant was to channel your passion and creativity into that first initial draft (drunk on inspiration y’all!) and then bring yourself back to reality to edit your work. Which brings me to Writer’s Porn.
Writer’s Porn is the text you go to battle for, that you love like a child, scenes that you wanted so badly to write… but do not actually serve your plot. They feel so good. They are special-snowflakes of character interaction and epic battles out of nowhere. Sadly, they are fluff. And they are the hardest to let go.
Edit sober. If it doesn’t connect to the plot, put it in a folder for when you need character development inspiration and cut it. Be ruthless with yourself. Your future editor certainly will be.
- Understand the time and effort
I started my first novel when I was 14 and finished it at 19, in the summer after my first year of college. The first one was the hardest and by far the longest to write.
Writing takes time. And frustration. And love.
But the more you write, the faster it goes. Soon you’ll be under a year.
It’s so important, I made it two points.
Ever read that Elizabeth Gilbert book Eat, Pray, Love? There’s that part about the Italian proverb- where a man prays and prays to win the lottery and one day the statue he is praying to wakes up and tells him to actually buy a ticket?
That’s BICHOK. You have to put pen to paper if you want to write a novel.
So that’s it. My final suggestion to all you aspiring writers out there: buy a ticket.
And tell me: what is your greatest writing inspiration?