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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What does success mean to you?

In our busy society I often think that there are some words we take for granted and misinterpret. One of these is most definitely ‘success’. We have a collective definition for success and we like to apply it to other people as an interpretation as to how well they are doing at life. But we forget that not all people want the same things as us, and even if they do, generally speaking they have their own route and motivating factors to get there.

As authors, perhaps the ultimate sign of success is to be on the New York Times Best Seller List. The longer you remain on it, the more successful you are. But, I’ve met scores of writers whose main aim is simply to reach readers, rather than get on the NYTB list. Equally too, there are some who write because they desire fame and fortune, and others still who just want their name to be known around the world. Being on the NYTB list can be a symbol that each of these have been achieved, but for those individuals the driving force behind their success isn’t focused on that list exclusively. The list is simply an outcome, rather than a product of their success. And they may not have been aiming for this at all in the beginning.

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What do you want?
The most important thing is that you learn how to define what success means to you. What is it that you really want from life? Do you want to be on the best seller list, or will you be happy having sold a few hundred copies to readers who aren’t your relatives?
Success isn’t a static thing, either. It can change and develop as you do. Once, all I wanted was to be able to write regularly and then, when this happened I set my sights on getting a short story published. Success isn’t just about the end goal, it’s also the smaller achievements on the way that mark out that you are on the path to success.

How will you know when you’ve got it?
One of the biggest challenges we face in this commercial, rat-race of a world is recognising when we are successful. A lot of the time we neglect to see our own success in favour of identifying it in others. We look around at our friends, family, work colleagues and beyond and think that we don’t match up – when, really, they’re all doing the same and believe you are more successful than they are!

Yes, that young, fresh author managed to get her debut novel onto the NYTB list, but she did it by writing about the tragedy that surrounds her life. She wants to share this to ensure other people don’t have to endure what she did; the one thing that we neglect to factor in when we judge how successful she might seem. This is a prime example of why we shouldn’t measure our own success on someone else’s scale. We can always look outside of ourselves and find people who we think are ‘doing better than us’ – but we don’t know what goes on behind closed doors, nor do we understand if what these people have is really what they wanted.

My current writing desk, plus view!

Imagine your ideal life – and keep that at the forefront of your terms for success. I picture myself sitting at a writing desk, in my ‘Plotting Shed’ staring out of a window that looks onto a wild garden with trees, beside a bookshelf full of my novels with a dog (or two) at my feet. I’ve had both the dog and a writing desk for some time. More recently I left my job to be a writer and Writing Coach and my Plotting Shed is on its way. While other people might not consider that success on their own scale, for me it’s an important step to the bigger dream.

Does it contribute to a bigger picture?
And that’s what we need to keep focused on. Every one is an individual – we all have our unique dreams and desires and we should be careful lest envy starts to distract us from our own ‘bigger picture’. Yes, the ultimate dream may change – remember, success isn’t a fixed point – but don’t want what someone else has just because they have it. Consider what YOU want. Are you building up to this, or is life taking you in a different direction? Work smart by asking yourself if you really are working toward what it is you say you want.

Unfortunately, as many of us know, being an author isn’t a guaranteed path to riches. So, you can’t necessarily rely on writing exclusively to get there. I worked hard to get my two-up-two-down house on the edge of the Pennines, and for years I built in other opportunities that contributed to success on my own terms. For me, it meant a part-time job and some freelance work along with putting my health first when I had to – things that took me away from writing, but provided me with the financial security and energy I needed in order to get to where I am now.

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The importance of everyday success
While doing the washing and cleaning the bathroom don’t factor into my personal ideal of success – I don’t judge my success based on my housekeeping skills (thankfully) – it does need doing. These everyday chores are a small part of my overall success. Remember the last time you went over to a friend’s house for coffee and their living space was immaculately clean, their kids were polite and neatly dressed and they had just added a brand new extension on to their house? What tiny part of you didn’t think ‘I wish I could do this’ and compare your failings as a housekeeper/parent/house owner to theirs? It’s a natural reaction in some ways, but it’s driven by societal views. For your friend, her success that day was dependent on you seeing how tidy her home is, how well behaved her children are and how proud she is of being able to add to her home; even if, ultimately, she judges her own success on how well she is coping at work.

Remember to cut yourself some slack and give yourself credit for all the little things that you do outside of your ultimate ideal of success. Working on a novel, all I really want is for it to be written, but every chapter I complete, every plot point I work out and even every load of washing I get done whilst I’m trying to write that novel – these are all everyday successes that we often forget about. Give yourself permission to see your achievements the way someone else might – and you’ll realise that there are plenty of people examining your life who would conclude that you’re more successful at something than they are.

You never know, you might even discover that you’ve been discounting your own success in favour of chasing someone else’s!

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So, what does success mean to you? Let me know in comments, or Tweet Me

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Turning Ideas into Novels

We writers can be a mysterious bunch to other people; coming up with random ideas in strange places, for plots and characters that are so different to our current lives and personalities. But this is what I love the most about being a writer; the freedom of imagination. Most especially at the very beginning of a new novel idea; when I know enough about it to keep me intrigued and excited, but not quite so much that I can trust it will turn into my next novel.

My Process
So, this is what usually happens with me. It will start with a half-imagined dream – forming in those moments before I go to sleep when I’m drifting between awake and the depths of my subconscious. There have been so many of these instances whereupon I’m convinced that I don’t need to stir myself back to awareness; I’ll remember this idea, I’ll write it down as soon as I wake up. Inevitably; this never happens. 

But sometimes I’ll carry the idea forward in my mind and the next day or two it will gently probe its way into my thoughts and settle there until I recognise the spark and actually do decide to write it down. I always intend only to write a sentence or two – just enough to remind myself later what the initial premise is – yet once my pen starts to move across the page (and yes, pen and paper is my idea-scribbling of choice), I can’t stop until the skeleton of the outline is there. A novel; summarised in two or three pages of almost illegible script.

Developing Time
From this point, I pack it away. Keep it out of my reach for a while.
Why? Because right then, it’s a perfect idea, packed with potential and excitement. If I break it down, try to analyse it and pick it apart, it loses some of its magic. These are the ideas that never get beyond this stage: those ones I try too hard to make work immediately. For my stories to develop, it takes a gestation of sorts; like waiting for an egg to hatch into a dragon.

Once I go back to it, and translate my scribble back into my brain I can see immediately where the issues are; characters that will be difficult to write, sub-plots that are missing or distracting, and elements that just will not work. This is when I need to be realistic. Am I ready to write this novel? 

[ Caveat ]
I should at this point say, I have ideas that are kept in drawers – both literally and metaphorically – wonderful possibilities that I know I am simply not yet capable of harnessing with the written word. I also have half-abandoned attempts; where the promise just didn’t quite live up to my initial concept. Yet, on occasion, there is one that catches fire and the anticipation of being able to create it on the page burns in my belly and my imagination ignites.


30-Days of Novel Writing
This is when I sit down to write. Sometimes it’s odd scenes that come through strong, other times it’s a summary of the shape of the novel; a methodology of how it should be told. 

I’m not one for simplicity in my writing. I like to mix time and perspective and knowledge. This is why I love November. National Novel Writing Month gives me a perfect opportunity to test out an early draft – draft zero if you will. I’m not an extensive planner; I learned early on that I can’t follow a path (or at least my characters won’t allow me to!). So with my basic premise, an inkling of what the themes might be, and a select group of characters, I write. I write through the 30 days of November and see where it takes me. Only then will I know for sure if it’s a novel worth pursuing.


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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.

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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!


 

 

Final NaNoWriMo Preparations, otherwise known as ‘Don’t Panic’!

It’s almost here. Later this week is when we all start worrying about our word counts and comparing it to other people’s. In an effort to calm the impending storm that begins on November 1st, here are a selection of final tips that should help you ready yourself for the big challenge. 

First, let’s consider practicalities: 

Housekeeping
cleanDo as much as much of it as you can, now. Clean your room, stock the fridge and empty the wash basket. Cook extra as part of every meal so you can freeze the leftovers later. For whole month these are the things that will be left neglected as you strain to squeeze out as many words as you can per day. So, give yourself a head start and begin the month of November with a tidy house, fully stocked kitchen and a few emergency meals already prepared. 

Stock up on Snacks
Linked with the tip above, ensure that you have some (healthy) snacks to get you through some of the slumps you will encounter throughout November. Snacks that are edible whilst typing are the best kind. And, if you want something like chocolate M&M’s – make it a rule that you can only eat one for every sentence you type, If you’re not writing, you’re not allowed the treat. 

Get a Reward Buddy
If food is going to play a part in your rewards system (like earning that chocolate bar for when you hit 5,000 words) make sure you have someone onside who will only let you have it once you’ve actually reached that target. In other words, no cheating. This is important for any reward you might put in place. If it’s something you’ve earned there is nothing more satisfying that having someone else present it to you in an official mark of celebration. 

Once you’ve got these in place, here are a few things you can work on to help with the writing come Thursday:

Character Objective
Make sure you know what your main characters want more than anything in the world. Then spend the whole of November taking it away from them. If you understand your character’s main motivation (what they want and why they want it) it is much easier to create plot twists and, eventually, give them their happy ending. Even better, it can help you inject conflict into every scene – especially if you have an antagonist whose objective runs counter to your protagonist’s. 

Shape your first line
onceuponatimeWe all know how important first lines are in novels. Sometimes it can make the difference between whether I read a book or not. So, if you’re chomping at the bit to get started, work on crafting the best opening line you can. Where will you begin? Which character will appear immediately and what will they be doing? How will you hook a reader in just one sentence? Once November begins, you’ll have the perfect start.

Figure out your ending
This can either be taken literally, or figuratively. You might need to know exactly how your novel is going to end in order to be able to work your way towards this from your very first line. If you know this, then you will automatically start placing things into the story to ensure that this ending is possible.

However, if you’re a pantster and have no idea where you might end up (which is part of the fun) think about how you might want a reader to feel at the end of your novel. Do you want a happy ending or would you prefer something more bitter-sweet? Do you want your readers to feel excited and pumped up by the end, or calm and contemplative? Hopefully, this will help you determine the mood of what you’re trying to achieve. 

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So those are my final few tips to prepare for the challenge of 50,000 words in just 30 days. If you’re taking part in NaNoWriMo and want to buddy up – please add me on the site. My username is Cat_Lumb.

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Good luck to everyone taking part. But, remember – whatever happens, you’re bound to end up with more words in November that you would have a written without the NaNoWriMo push: so be proud of any progress you make, even if you don’t manage the 50k goal.

Writing that dreaded Synopsis

I think putting together a synopsis for a novel is one of the most challenging aspects of writing for ‘new’ writers. I am certainly finding it very difficult. How am I expected to sum up a story that it has already taken me around 90,000 words to tell in only a page or two?

There are numerous methods and techniques out in the either of the web that can help you write a synopsis, and most of these are centred around the various basic story structures that should come together to form a novel.

The basics of a good story...

The basics of a good story…

Here are a few that I’ve been finding useful*:

  • If you need to be taken through every step – maybe because you aren’t clear on your plot, or like to be thorough – try How to Write a Synopsis of Your Novel by Glen C. Strathy. This is a Seven Step Programme that will help you identify all of the key points for both the emotional aspects and main arc of your plot
  • If you feel that you have a good grasp of your story and characters, Synopsis Writing Made Easy by James Scott Bell might be better for you. This is a good paragraph by paragraph guide to synopsis writing that starts out with the premise of your novel in just one sentence!
  • I also really like How to Write a One-Page Synopsis, written by Amanda Patterson. This is a great, quick reference to the synopsis writing process – providing you know your main plot points.
  • Finally, I had an excellent recommendation from a friend – actually, my new critique partner, – who has been struggling with a synopsis herself recently. She suggested I check out Dan Wells’ Seven Point Story Structure, recommended by the Self Publishing Toolkit. Not only do they offer worksheets to get you started, but Dan also has some awesome videos on YouTube (Part 1/5 here).
    Having read my friend’s brilliant synopsis yesterday this technique most definitely works.

* It should be noted that if you’re writing a synopsis for querying always check the submission guidelines to see what the agent/publisher expects. 

The biggest issue I have is that my novel doesn’t conform to the standard story structure. The story does – but the novel itself does not. Whilst I have my main story arc (written in 3rd person) between this there are three instances of 1st person story flashbacks from different characters – all of which also have their own story structure included.

Therefore, as it stands, I officially have four stories in one. Writing a standard synopsis, therefore, doesn’t really sum up my novel as a whole. In order to get around this, I’m going to have to play around a little longer with different techniques and see what works best. I suppose I can take solace in the fact that at least it’s not as complex as Cloud Atlas – for which I discovered this basic synopsis.

Once I’ve got a version I’m happy with I’ll be sharing my new synopsis here so you can see how I got on. In the meantime, if you’re interested in the plot of my novel, check out my current ‘book blurb’ on my Novel’s Page.

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Have you struggled writing a synopsis, or did you breeze though it? Any tips or links would be gratefully received via comments. Or, alternatively, Tweet something for my attention @CatLumb


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One thought on “How do you ‘make’ time to write?”

  1. Very well written. We usually spend time without management. Prioritising things are important when it comes to time, because it never waits for anyone. Thanks for sharing thoughts ❤️

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