5 Tips to Finish Your First Novel
Advice for writers often sounds a lot like, “Read a lot and write a lot,” which is all true, but this is easier said than done. These tips can help you turn those words into action and turn blank pages and ideas into a completed manuscript.
If you find that each and every one of these suggestions conflicts with your process, then please, do not change what works for you. However, if while reading this, you feel a nagging voice inside of you say, “You really should be doing that,” then I encourage you to stop shoving that voice aside and to embrace the terrible and painful and beautiful process of writing.
Find a Space
Create a space that exists (at least in your mind) only for your writing. This can be anywhere. The kitchen table, a coffee shop, a library, a park bench, a crowded subway – it does not matter. All that matters is that when you go there, physically or mentally, you are only there to write.
For me, this space is a dining room table with candles and Ludovico Einaudi’s “Taranta Project” playing in the background. And always at night. The later the better. That is, of course, for my creative writing, when I’m working on my own novels. To write anything else, I work best on my couch, early in the morning, with a cup of coffee. The specific location, time, and ambiance do not matter – all that matters is that it is consistent so that your body and mind know exactly what it is you are there to do. Write.
Take the time to write in different spaces and at different times of day. Spend a morning in a cafe, an afternoon at your local bar, or a night in your office. Turn on some jazz and then some classical. Sit and write in silence. Light some candles and turn on a desk lamp. Drink tea and drink wine. Try everything. If you find yourself struggling to start a sentence in one instance and cranking out chapters in another, it is likely no coincidence.
Devote a Time
This is different from simply deciding you write best after midnight. This is scheduling time in your day to write. Do not wait to feel inspired or for when you have free time. This is not something you do in your free time. It is a part of your day. Force yourself to write during that scheduled time – free from distractions and other responsibilities. Keep writing even if it feels uninspired and choppy and all-around terrible. All that matters is that your book becomes a priority in your life just as anything else might.
In my opinion, this is the hardest task for a writer who is still looking to make their living with their words. Other jobs and other responsibilities get in the way, and although one pays your bills and one does not (yet), you must treat them with the same level of importance. Never forget why you still have that day job.
Trust a Person
A painfully honest person. You should be scared to show your work to this person. There is nothing more valuable than an opinion you can believe is honest and true to tell you something is crap or that something is beautiful. No matter how brilliant of a judge of writing you may be, you will never accurately judge your own work. You need an opinion from a reader who has no idea what you’re trying to say. I find it particularly useful not to have people tell me if something is “good” or “bad” (because who can really be sure), but to have them tell me what they are seeing in their minds. I want to know what pictures my words paint for the reader. If the image they see is not what I want to express, I know I must rewrite.
There are many different ways to find this person. Your mom and your best friend may not be the best options (though you should still ask for their opinions). Place yourself in the kinds of environments where you might find someone in your shoes. If you are writing a fantasy novel, walk around the fantasy section of your local library or book store. Ask someone there if they would be willing to read your work. If you are in school, bring your work to the Writing Center or start a club with other writers where you can give each other feedback. You are not the only aspiring author in the world. Go find them.
Use an Ideal Software
It could just be me, but I cannot write anything of any length on a Word document. There is something about the scrolling, the multiple documents, and the formatting that make it impossible for me to function. I use a program called Scrivener, which allows me to have character outlines, places, maps, references, notes, outlines, research, and individual chapters all separated, but in the same project. I can easily navigate to difference parts of my manuscript, or toggle between my research and my chapters, all while never losing sight of my chapter notes.
Scrivener can also compile and format your manuscript with the click of a button, which makes it easy to send your entire manuscript, or individual sections, to your friends or publishers, all formatted for you. Personally, compiling my manuscript as a formatted paperback novel and seeing it look like a real book for the first time was life changing. Writing a book can be frustrating and discouraging enough. Do not make your software another reason to set your work aside.
Have a Plan
There is nothing worse than getting 150 pages into your novel and realizing you’ve hit a major plot hole – or that what you’ve been writing about is not what you actually want to write about. Believe me. I’ve done it. Take the time to really think about what it is you’re writing, where it’s going, and how it should get there. Think of your characters and map out their personal journey through your story. If their journey does not fit with your story, you might be better off changing your story. I found it particularly useful to write a sample chapter from many different characters’ perspectives to find which characters were the most interesting, which I enjoyed writing about more, and to learn more about them as characters. Let these believable characters guide a story you would want to read and write.
Take the time to make an outline of each chapter. This does not have to be long or all that detailed, but write down everything that needs to happen in that chapter to move your story toward its resolution. Keep your chapter goals in mind while you write. You may still find plot holes and hiccups along the way,but taking the time to really think about your story and your characters will save you the heartache of scrapping hundreds of pages and countless hours.
These are just a few of my essentials for writing and they are by no means one size fits all. Goose Lodge can help you create your own “Must Haves” to perfect your process, as well as help you along with some of ours. If there is anything we can do for you, send us an email and we’ll get back to you!