Thursday, May 16, 2013

Three Tips to Sticking With Your Novel - A Writing Journal

Ideas: writers have endless amounts of them. They pop up from thin air and beg to be written. They consume our minds and let us think of little else until we put pen to paper and finally let the words flow out. But by then, a dozen other ideas have captured our minds, and the first idea lays forgotten in a drawer.

This is a dilemma many of us face: how to stick with your ideas and actually finish your novels instead of deserting them a few chapters in.

While there is no one-way to stick with a novel to its conclusion, here are three tips that may help.

Firstly, to stick with a novel, you have to really love your idea. Because writers spend an incredible amount of time with a given work, it is crucial that the love for said work be overwhelming.

I received a tip a long time ago with regards to novel writing. I was told that, before starting any idea for a novel, I should give the idea the 'two week test'. Basically this means that whenever you get an idea for a novel, you don’t start writing it for at least two weeks. No writing down a quick first chapter, or an outline, or character development sheets. No writing! Just let the idea live in your head and grow organically. Think about the idea, develop it in your head, but don’t write anything down. If after two weeks you’re still crazy about the idea and want to write it, then, and only then, you start putting your ideas down on paper.

The point of the two week test is to see if you really love the idea or not. Two weeks is a long time to carry an idea without writing anything down. If you love your idea it will stay in your mind. If you don’t love it you will most likely have forgotten the idea, or just don’t want to write it anymore.

In giving a novel idea two weeks to simmer, a writer can truly discover whether the idea is one that will survive the long-haul of writing and editing, or one that just happened to spark a moment of imaginative bliss. You have to stick with a novel for a long time; sometimes for years. If you can’t keep a novel idea in your head for two weeks, you're not going to love it enough to keep writing it for months or years.

If the idea remains in your mind, write it. If not, jot it down in an idea notebook anyways. Maybe you’ll use it for something one day in the future. You may feel that you’ve hit “the idea” and that there’s no need to wait two weeks, but I seriously encourage you to follow this test. It works. My first finished novel was finished because it won this test. And while you wait for an idea that sticks, try writing a few short stories. Or maybe crack open the drawer and find an old idea. Who knows if it will recapture your imagination – and manage to pass the test the second time around?

The second tip for sticking with a novel idea is that the idea needs to become more than an idea. An idea is a small thing – usually a sentence long. It’s a few thousand words short of being a novel, which is why your idea's needs to grow before they can be written. Flesh out your idea and try to identify what the full story is. Even if you’re the type of writer who builds the story as they write, it might help you to have a sense of the basics of the story before you start writing. These basics can change as you write, but you need to have some idea of them before you start. What basics am I talking about? Well, try to understand the characters, setting, plot, conflict and theme of your story. Figure these out before you start writing. You can either have a basic idea of each, or an in-depth idea. As long as you know some things, it will help in the grand scheme of things. The nice thing about this tip is that it can be done during the two-week test. Think about these basics, just don’t write them down until the test is over.

This second tip helps you stick with your novel because it gives you a sense of where the story is going. Whenever you get stuck in your novel, just refer back to these basics, and think about what needs to happen, where it needs to happen, and who its going to happen to. Also, try to think about how it will help move the conflict or theme forward. By answering these questions you've given yourself the base for a scene. This brings you one step closer to finishing your novel!

The final tip for sticking with a novel is to stick with your story and finish it; sit there and write it. Words will not magically appear on your paper, you have to put them there... even when you're not feeling inspired.

There will be days when you don’t want to write, and even the idea you love is looking rather dull. Instead of leaving it for another idea, you have to think back to why you loved the idea in the first place, bring out your inner writer, and write.

As a writer you have to learn to write even when you’re not inspired.  Don’t say that if you write while you're uninspired your writing won’t be as good. The truth is, no first draft it good, and even inspired writing has to be edited. A blank page, on the other hand, can never be edited. Get in the habit of actually writing your ideas. In fact, start writing a little every day; put one word after another and write. If you really want to stick with your novel and finish it, you need to start writing and don't stop until you reach “the end”.

Have you had trouble sticking with a story? What are your tips? Did you find these helpful? Leave a comment below and continue the discussion!

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