What does it take to finish writing your novel?

the end

I remember finishing the first draft of my first ever novel. I’d done it; and that was it. I sat there stunned for a few minutes. Believe it or not, ‘The End’ can be a very anti-climatic moment. There is no spontaneous applause, no balloons suddenly appear and no-one in the world knows what you have just achieved until you share it with them.

Completing a novel is such a personal, private affair that often occurs in silence and seriousness. There is the weight of all that you have done on your shoulders and the fear that it will not live up to what you believe it could be. Yet, there is also pride and satisfaction in knowing that you have done what you set out to do, that you stuck with it through the difficult times and now you have something whole to show for it. Not to mention that now, thanks to the advent of modern technology, you can shout your success from the rooftops and share in your glory with others who know just how it feels to write those final words.

I’ve completed several manuscripts since that first one. And with each one I’ve learned something new about my writing and my approach to novel constructions. It can take me a long time to be able to read the story back and determine the best route for my characters. So many changes are made on the way, not just in my narrative. I’ve changed too.

Since starting my first novel in 2011 I have written seven others. These include a fun draft for a young adult novel and a first draft intended to be a sequel to that first one; That which is left is lost. In part, writing these made me really question the quality of my first novel and led to me to rewriting the whole thing. I spent 2013 trying unsuccessfully to edit that story, it wasn’t until I sat down to tackle the rewrite that I really discovered all the issues that it had. Half-formed characters, unknown motivations and lapsed story threads plagued my original draft and even the sections I had attempted to edit were lacking the pace and narrative structure to adequately tell the story I wanted to share.

finish novelIn the rewriting of that novel I had more control. I knew what was supposed to happen when, who was integral to the plot and why they were involved to begin with. So many more things were clear to me during the rewrite and I think that is because over the past few years I’ve developed my skill as a writer. I still probably have so much left to learn. But I know this much: writing those two novels in between this draft and my original copy of That which is left is lost, really helped me to understand story structure and to develop character. Now I truly understand why it is so rare for a debut novelist to be published with their inaugural novel – because good writing, storytelling and description take time to develop.

A novel needs nurturing and caring for; the idea needs time to sit and ferment. I think writers can get drunk on the possibility of new ideas and then, when they emerge out of the other side they realise, in a hungover state, that perhaps it wasn’t such a genius plan after all – that they’ve written themselves into a corner or lost the spark that they believed was the glint of literary gold. Ideas need work, and so often that takes longer than we want it to.

The process of writing a novel is not something that can simply be taught. People can advise and suggest ways for you to get started or to keep your motivation going or even how to celebrate when you finish. But they can’t write the book for you, nor can they tell you what is best for the story you are trying to tell. All of that has to come from you.

Even as a Writing Coach I can only make suggestions and help writers navigate the choices they need to make; not give them the answers. What I can do, however, is champion your writing efforts, support you as a writer, and guide you on the way to your particular novelling success. I help writers write their novel, in their own way so that, in ‘the end’ they don’t have to waste months, or even years, trying to figure out what that looks like. I took that route, and now it’s ten years later…!

Wherever you are on your writing journey, know that what it takes to finish writing a novel is, when it comes down to it, pure perseverance. Keep going, keep writing, keep editing, and one day you’ll sit back and realise: “I just wrote my novel”.

totally did it

 


 

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Call Yourself a Writer?

Are you a Writer?

What is it that we are afraid of when uttering the words, “I am a writer.” Do we expect the job-police to jump out and contradict us? Are we ashamed of our passion for writing? Or do we simply not believe that – when we write – we can be considered ‘a writer’.

Typewriter: The right to write
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

It seems to be a common ailment amongst us creatives that we fail to claim the name of ‘Writer’ for ourselves. Instead, we pass the power to label us onto others – be they qualified or not. We wait for someone to tell us we are a writer, and even then we shy away from it. 

We seldom challenge other names in this way – you have a child; you are a parent: You teach children; you are a teacher: you go to work; you are a worker. Why do we so consistently shrug off the identity of ‘writer’. Why do we hide behind anonymity and wait for someone to call us out? Why do we transfer the weight of responsibility for being a writer to anyone but ourselves?

What’s in a Name?

I’ve spoken to lots of writers who refute the name. They brush it off with the excuse that they don’t write often enough, or haven’t yet completed anything, or even that they are not published. But these are not things that make you a writer. What makes us writers is that we WRITE. That is all.

What is there to be fearful of when we are simply describing ourselves by the label of our actions. Descartes said ‘I think, therefore I am.’ Why can we not also say, “I write, therefore I am a writer?” 

We bundle up our self-worth and our potential as authors with the label of ‘writer’ – we question whether we are worthy of the title, but the word does not care who you are, or why you do it. Simply put: We are writers. We write.

Writing as a Writer

It took me a long time to adopt the ‘writer’ identity. I, too, believed that I did not deserve the recognition of calling myself a ‘writer’. But each day, when I sat down to add more words to my manuscript, or create short stories, or even just sketch out the bare bones of a new narrative, it became more difficult to separate myself from the term ‘writer’. Writing is what I was doing, it is what I love doing, and being a writer is an integral part of who I am. 

Don't forget: I am a Writer
My reminder to myself!

So I’m asking those of you out there who write to claim your rightful (write-ful?) name. Be proud. You are worthy of it. You deserve to acknowledge – for yourself – that you are a writer. Don’t ignore the authority you have simply by writing – you are a writer.

Say it. Claim it, and be proud.
And remember: There is no one but yourself to refute it. 

So, tell me, are you a writer?


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Why I Chose to Follow my Writing Dreams

The Importance Of Dreams

For a long time all I wanted to be was a writer. I love writing; making up fictional worlds that contain complex characters and moral dilemmas is my escape from the hustle of everyday life. Once, my dream was simply to write a novel; then it was to edit that novel; then get that novel an agent.

I’ve had smaller dreams in between; about writing short stories, being published, and getting a 5* review. Each time one of these mini-dreams have come true – not by accident, or luck, or magic – it has been because I made them happen. I made a conscious choice to aim high, and somehow it all worked out better than I expected!

 

Of course, as I conquered the smaller dreams, my imagination created new ones, bigger, bolder, braver ones. Dreams I never quite believed could happen to me. As was the case with this latest one: to leave my Museum job (even though I loved the work) and dedicate my life to writing my own fiction, and helping other writers achieve their own dream of writing ‘that’ novel!  

Time to Choose the Dream

I’ve secretly known I would love to be a writing coach for a while now. I get such a buzz seeing other writers commit to and achieve their dreams, and it’s been so rewarding when I’ve played even a small part in their success. For over a decade I’ve facilitated learning in my Museum role, and translating the skills to nurture new writers to build their confidence and develop their craft to actually write their novel is an easy parallel.  

During the Coronavirus lockdown, being forced to work from home my health was so much more improved. My M.E. and Fibromyalgia became background noise I barely noticed. I honestly never quite dare hope that I could live my life without the constant crushing fatigue and pain. Those things are gone now, and it made me realise that I was compromising my health for a job. Granted, it was a job I loved doing, but when the opportunity arose to apply for voluntary severance I had a choice: continue on in a job I enjoyed but continue in crippling pain; or forge a new path in a role I dreamed of, being able to live a relatively healthy life…

Bed, and laptop with word 'Dream'
Photo by Olenka Sergienko on Pexels.com

Put like that, it didn’t seem like such a difficult decision. 

Dealing with The Fear

Of course that didn’t automatically cancel out the fear. Will it turn out to be a mistake? Will I be able to make it as a writer and a writing coach and create a career that will sustain my way of life? What if no agent will take on my novel/s? So many questions, so many potential fears. But, being a writer has taught me many many lessons already:  

  • If you never put the words on the page, nothing will ever get written  
  • You make a mistake in the draft; you can fix it in the edit 
  • Characters who take the risks, reap the rewards 
  • Difficult challenges teach characters the lessons they need to end the story well 

These are the things I’ve kept in my mind as my fears arise. And like my Idea Generator method* of plotting out numerous stories before choosing one for the novel, I am viewing this path as one of many. There is no ONE right decision. There are many decisions, all of which have differing outcomes. As such I can’t say I’ll ever think I made the ‘wrong’ choice; because I don’t believe there is one. 

Being Confident about my Choice

Of all the options I followed in my imagination as to what could happen if I made various decisions at this point in my life, the one where I stood up to claim my dream and invest in it was the one I knew I would regret if I didn’t follow it. There are people in my life who whole-heartedly support me, and others who don’t quite understand the ‘risk’ I am taking. The main thing is though: I believe. I believe in my ability to make this dream a reality. 

So whatever happens in my drive to be the writer I want to be, and to support other writers to live their own dream, I am confident I will be able to take on the challenge. Following my dream is the brave, bold decision I am happy to make – no matter what happens next.  


 
 

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How to Plan a Novel

Why I’m sharing my 5-step process for planning a novel…

So, if you know me already you will be aware that every year I take on the task of NaNoWriMo to write a 50k word novel in the month of November. This is my playground – the testing of an idea that I usually have earlier in the year, to see if the plot has merit or my characters aren’t flawed enough. I love it; but I would never attempt to do it from scratch. Now, I always rely on a sketched out plan to guide me through.

gray dream freestanding letters

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Only once have I truly ‘pantsed’ it – with the challenge of my spy thriller novel, written on a dare from my writing group. For that one, I had about 1,500 words to start me off, written as an exercise for a genre we wouldn’t typically write. That 1,500 word opening had thugs wearing only trench coats shooting at a character I had no backstory for! As it turned out, not planning was both stressful and exhilarating, but it didn’t make for a good manuscript in the end. So, despite finishing it up and being quite charmed by the whole thing, I put it aside and it’s now filed away…perhaps it will get it’s outing one day, perhaps not.

For all my other novels, I always have at least a road-map that guides my direction of travel. I plan the opening concept – the ‘what if’ that the story hangs on. I do a bit of work on my main characters; what they want and how they aren’t going to get it without a challenge of some kind. And, most of the time I have a vague imagining of when and where all this takes place and how these might add to the atmosphere of the novel.

In fact, I’ve realised I follow a simple 5-step formula that allows me to build a great outline for my story, whilst also allowing me the freedom to explore the novel’s breadth and detail when I write.

This means I am never intimated by the blank page.

Every writing session I know exactly what I need to get onto the page. I understand my character motivations, and that I need to get them from point A to point B. Sometimes I don’t know how…but that’s part of the fun of writing the first draft I think. So, I don’t constrain myself with too much planning; just enough to ensure the shape of the story is compelling enough for 90k words.

When I was first starting out, what I wouldn’t have done for such a simple strategy! It took me three years to finish my first manuscript – because my story was off, then my characters weren’t right, and finally when I did write ‘The End’ I was almost so bored of working on it I had to put it away for a few months.

Now I write a new novel every year. Not all of them will make it to the agenting stage – so far I’ve only submitted three out of eight. But, when I do get that publishing deal I’ll certainly not be intimated by the thought of writing new books, year after year after year. I love planning and writing them far too much.

The 5-day Plan Your Novel Challenge!

PYN Challenge tileYet, because I know how much I struggled in the early days of my novel-writing, I’ve decided to share my process. That’s why I’m doing the 5-day Plan Your Novel Challenge at the end of the month as part of my coaching offer for The Write Catalyst.

From 26-30 June I will guide you though the process of finding and refining your novel’s idea, character, and time and location. Plus, there’ll be a trouble-shooting workshop on the final day so we can tackle any stumbling blocks you might come across along the way. 

If you’ve always wanted to write a novel, or have tried before and given up; this challenge is for you! And, because I want to make sure that as many people as possible follow their dreams, it’s a FREE resource.
No cost except your email address, participation, and a promise to yourself that 2020 is the year that you will write that book!

Want in? All you have to do is sign up here: The Write Catalyst 5-day Plan Your Novel Challenge

See you in the challenge, I hope!


  • Copy of logo 3Do you already have a part-written manuscript, but struggle to keep up the momentum?
  • Perhaps you’ve run out of plot, or aren’t sure how to fix what you now realising are glaring errors in your story?
  • Or worse, have you simply lost your writing mojo altogether?

As The Write Catalyst, I can help! 
With a decade’s experience of writing novels; I’m familiar with lots of the issues and challenges that writers face when attempting to get that story on the page.
Why not book in a free virtual cuppa with me, and let’s talk it out. 
Book in here!