Writing a novel conjures romantic Austenesque notions of tapping away on a word processor with a sure-sell blockbuster where the words simply flow from the keyboard like silk. Even the declaration, ‘I’m going to write a novel’ sounds thrilling. However, halfway through the project, you feel you are wading in mud. Writer’s block strikes you down, even on the first page. What are the secrets to writing a novel without losing the will?
Don’t Write a Novel Like This
Fiction writing sound grand, exciting, but the reality is different. From personal experience I have learned some dos and don’ts of novel writing that has kept me focused and may help you keep to a deadline, or even to complete a novel during National Novel Writing Month.
Don’t discuss your novel with anyone else. Some writers have ‘writing buddies.’ This might be helpful for some, but I think a creative idea is like a battery. If you share your creative fervour with anyone, that creative energy is being spent. You could get carried away with discussing your idea and when it comes to putting pen to paper, your may find your energy has been depleted; your pen falls still. Bluntly put, keep your creative ideas to yourself.
Sleeping on Your Novel
The alpha or dream state can do wonders for the novel. If you hit a brick wall with a plot or technical problem, don’t force it or novel-writing could become a chore. Get away from it. Sleep on it, let your ideas drift or divert the mind. Work on another aspect of your novel if a deadline is due. You may be surprised to find your subconscious has been working on the problem without your knowledge, yielding an unexpected solution. A problem can be overcome with lateral thinking presenting ‘what ifs.’ Keep a notebook handy for when this moment occurs.
Novel Writing Timetable
It is true that the creative process is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. This means getting a little disciplined, but in a way that works best for you. Get possessive about your writing time. Some writers work in a particular corner, room or shed, or a particular time of day. Procrastination is the enemy of the novel writer so the following are no-nos: Computers, radio chat-shows, TVs, telephones, curtain-twitching, worrying and dozing off. It matters little if you manage to eke only a paragraph in an hour or a chapter in half-an-hour. Progress is progress.
Don’t Over Plan your Story
Over-planning your novel in my view kills the life out of it. I may know what happens next, but not always how. Getting there with open questions can be fun or exciting. Leave some blanks in your novel to keep the writing organic. Remember to engage all five senses in your action scenes to keep the writing alive, this means sights, smells and emotions. This will help transport you into the novel where everything else falls away.
Make Key Scenes Excruciating
Why not inject something extra into your key scenes? Of course, conflict is a given, but what about embarrassment, terror, misunderstandings? Why not include a pathological liar, a narcisst or obsessive in your character list? Injecting something precarious into your novel will make it more fun and exciting to write. You may anticipate writing a scene with relish rather than languor.
A character in my blog novel, Nora has an aversion to alcohol, yet is daughter to one who lives down the pub. In this scene, she makes a rare appearance in her mother's pub, the Hatchet Inn and an inner conflict is set up. Notice how uncomfortable the character feels walking into a place that most would find welcoming. She tries to step into her mother's shoes, she tries to understand. Inner conflicts such as this makes scenes more interesting to write.
Give the Novel a Life
Cut stereotypes, clichés and anything humdrum. This includes the studious librarian, discourse about the weather or a lost lottery ticket. Cut the deadwood and the life in the novel will be released. By getting down to the essentials, the novel will also be easier to manage. I like to have as few characters in my novel as possible (why include numerous characters to keep up with?) Similarly, cut redundant scenes or combine two into one. A streamlined novel is one more likely to be completed.
Care About Your Characters
I don’t mean like your characters. Care about what happens to them. This will equally apply to villains as heroes. A novel without believable characters is like a novel without a pulse. If you find your characters are getting wooden, complete a character questionnaire, inject a little of yourself into them. Empathise with their emotions and your novel will soon have a life of its own. A character-driven story is your ultimate aim.
Secrets to Completing the Novel
A novel that withers and dies in mid-completion can be revived with some writing strategies. Don’t discuss your novel with anyone whilst it is in progress. Let it be your secret. Make your characters believable and interesting. Empathise with them. Cut the deadwood and anything clichéd about the plot. Inject something precarious into your novel to make it exciting to write. And finally, get a little disciplined about your writing time. With these strategies, you could realistically complete a novel by your own personal deadline.
Tips and Tricks to Writing a Novel
Active and passive writing
Preventing writing procrastination
Character questionnaire for writers
I wish I had the time to write a novel
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