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Why You Haven't Finished your Novel

How long have you been talking about it? The time is now.

By Clarke WainikkaPublished 4 years ago 5 min read
Why You Haven't Finished your Novel
Photo by Nick Morrison on Unsplash

I finished my first novel in 2017. I lived in South Korea at the time and I was teaching English. For years, the entirety of my adolescent, I had strived for publication of a novel. When I was in the second grade, our teacher asked us to write a list of things that we wanted to accomplish by the age of 25 - write a book was high up on that piece of loose leaf.

But I had never been able to finish a book. How many had I started? Probably close to a hundred. If you relate to this, let me tell you a) you are not alone and b) you can finish a book. You absolutely can.

But before you get your keys pumping or that pen scratching, let's think about the why - the reasons that are holding you back.

Number 1. You Don't Make the Time

By Bruno Figueiredo on Unsplash

This is the most important of all the things we're going to talk about. Time could be the only thing holding you back. When I was living in Korea, I had a one-hour spare in my day of teaching middle-aged businessmen idioms. After about a month of doing nothing with that spare aside from browsing the news and eating yogurt and only working on my sci-fi novel on the weekends, I designated that time for writing time.

And this is going to be a reoccuring theme: Designation.

Set a block of time, once or twice per week however much you can afford, and that is your writing time. All you do during that time is write. Nothing but.

Close your door. Put the kids to bed. That is your do-not-disturb writing time and you will do nothing else at that time but write. This is the first, aboslutely essential step.

Seems easy, right? Attainable? Definietly.

Number 2. You Don't Set Small Attainable Goals

By Isaac Smith on Unsplash

Okay, you've set up your writing session time. You wrote it all out in a beautiful planner with your gel pens - 5 days per week, one hour each evening.

By John Matychuk on Unsplash

STOP. Just stop.

You are setting yourself up for failure. If you have never been able to meet your writing goals before it's because your goals are not attainable. Be realistic with yourself. Are you going to be able to do 5 days a week after not writing consistently for the last three years? Probably not.

Scale - Scaffold - Start small and build up. In fact, start even smaller than you think you should. If you think you can do two sessions per week, make your goal for one. Make it easy on yourself. Be kind to yourself. This is going to help prevent burn out and discouragement.

When I first started, I set a goal for 5 days a week and I was only able to do that because of my spare and designated time. However, I set my daily word goal very low: 500 words per day. Because I knew that was the minimum I could do and if I got over that it was only a positive bonus.

Number 3. You Don't Outline

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Here's a big one - perhaps, the most important for me after time. I was never able to finish a full novel until I had an outline. And when I say outline, this could be whatever you need it to be. My outlines are very basic - just a couple of sentences of what happens in each chapter.

Not outlining works for some people. I have an author friend who never outlines and she has been able to complete 16 books. But if you are first starting out, outlining may be the x-factor to get your project finished. In my opinion, you need to know where your story is going, how things are going to wrap-up, and where your characters are headed in order to complete your story arc. This is especially true if you write something like mysteries, like me.

What are your major conflicts? What are the resolutions to those conflicts? Without an outline, these questions will be difficult to answer and it will reflect in your writing. If you're getting 1/3 a way through your project and then it's dying off because you don't know where to go - try an outline.

Number 4. You Lose Motivation

By Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

Okay so you're 20 000 words in - the story is happening and then you skip a session. You miss the next session two and suddenly, all of your motivation is gone to pick up the story again.

That is okay! Motivation is temporary. You cannot drive and complete a novel on motivation alone. The essential factor for getting anything major done is DISCIPLINE.

Not every aspect of novel writing is as exciting or glamorous as the media makes it seem. There are points where you will NOT want to write. You will think of every excuse to sabotage yourself and to keep yourself away from that intimidating laptop.

Fostering discipline is probably the hardest point on this list because it means you are not relying on that great artistic inspiration that you have but instead you are relying on the nature of hard effin' work.

Word count is word count. Even if the words aren't as perfect as you want them to be, get them done. It's the only way you will finish the first draft. Do not give yourself another option.

Discipline sustains you. Motivation does not.

Number 5. You Have Writer's Block

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I've got a whole other video and article about this topic as this is a big one. Writer's block is 100% all in your head. It is a mental block. But there are strategies you can do to overcome it.

Firstly, you should identify where the block or problem is coming from. Is it an issue with plot? Do you not know your characters well enough? Is this a motivation problem?

Go back and re-evaluate your outline. Start from the ground up if you need to. What always works for me is going back and editing what I've written so far. Some people say that this is the worst thing that you can do and that you should never edit your first draft. I disagree. Editing as I write the first draft helps me remember details I may have missed, traits of characters that I want to focus on and, most importantly, where the story is going to go next.

You can also try some character testing - Take your protagonist out of your novel and write them into a short story. How do they react to different situations and environments? Knowing your characters is going to help your story move forward. You cannot have a plot without your characters and you cannot have characters without a plot.

And there you have it! Five things that may be holding you back from finishing your novel. There is even a sixth step that I talk about in my video below:

I hope that you found this helpful in some capacity.

Time, discipline and outlining have been the three most important factors for me and those three things have helped me complete 5 novels and publish 2 of them in the last 3 years.

Anyone can write a book and yes, that includes you.

how to

About the Creator

Clarke Wainikka

Winnipeg-based author Clarke Wainikka is the creator of compelling dark fiction thrillers and mysteries such as The Resemblance and All Junkies Float, as well as numerous short stories.

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    Clarke WainikkaWritten by Clarke Wainikka

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