I wrote my first “novel” when I was in the seventh grade. It was 80 pages long and I thought it was a masterpiece. I was going to be the first middle-school bestseller. I later wrote a sequel in eighth grade. Then another sequel in ninth grade. Finally I realized I had an actual novel, and put it together as a single book.
Since then, I’ve written another ten novels, and self-published four of them. Having been through it that many times, I think I’ve discovered that the biggest challenges with writing are not about the writing itself, but the habits we form around writing.
Here’s a very short guide to the habits that will help you write (and finish) your book:
1) Open a Word document and write something. Anything. Most likely, if you think you want to write a novel, you have some idea about what it is. Maybe it’s just a scene, a title, a character, or a first line. Maybe it’s not even that, but is just a feeling you want the reader to experience when they finish your book. Get it on paper. Even if it’s not the novel itself, seeing the words on paper and not just in your brain will help you. Many of my best ideas comes to me in the process of writing. You have to have the document started, though.
2) Make the time. Don’t just find the time to write, make it. Act out scenes in the shower and then write them down at the breakfast table. Pass on watching TV a night or two a week so that you can write. Write during part of your lunch break. There is always time if you make it.
3) Accept that it will take a long time. Below is a chart that shows the two years it took for me to write my most recent novel. At the end of each day of writing, I charted the word count. This is how long it too. Notice the plateaus when I didn’t get any work done. And the spikes when I was inspired and was on a tear. But also, notice the gradual little rises—25 words here, 300 words there. That’s where the real work is in writing a novel: having the courage to open up the document again and try to get anything down, just so you can say you got something today.
4) Try hard not to edit as you go. This is difficult advice, so I’m not going to say absolutely DON’T EDIT. Of course you will. You’re human. My advice: don’t edit anything more than the last chapter you wrote, and don’t do it more than once. A lot of people have really well polished first chapters, but nothing more. It’s important to keep the momentum going. Know that you can always go back and change it later.
5) Change your inner critic. We all have a little voice that tells us our worst fears. For a lot of people, this inner critic tells them that their writing is terrible. Instead of getting rid of the criticism, try to change the critique. My little voice tells me, “You finished a novel in middle school, why can’t you finish this one now?” A critic who tells you that should be further along is more useful than one who thinks your writing sucks. Work to change your critic.
6) Find a reader. Choose someone you trust who will be kind. Give them chunks of your book, in whatever segments it takes to keep you motivated. This is not about asking them for criticism or improving your writing. This is about finding someone who wants to find out what happens next. My writing pace picked up substantially after I self-published my first novel in 2010. Suddenly I had readers. And knowing someone likes what you’ve written and wants to read more is incredibly motivating.
If you follow this advice, I think the actual act of writing will be much easier. Good luck!