The secret to finishing your novel (8 tips for self-motivating persistently)

The secret to finishing your novel (8 tips for self-motivating persistently)

TTyree Callahanhis is a guest post from Bridget at Now Novel – she’s going to get the conversation started and I’ll finish up with my own thoughts.

You’ve taken the leap into actually putting words on paper and getting started on that novel you’ve always wanted to write, but how do make sure that you keep going? You need one key quality to ensure that you finish your novel, and that quality is persistence.

Having a great idea, outlining and planning ahead, and even having a group of readers waiting for the next chapter are all ways to make sure you keep moving forward on your manuscript.

However, none of these strategies will drive a writer forward without persistence. Persistence is what will be needed when you get bogged down in the middle of the book. Persistence will drive you on when you are convinced your novel is a waste of time. Persistence will push you forward through self-doubt and the doubt of others and will keep you going when you suddenly realise that you have to scrap the last 100 pages or start rewriting from a different character’s point of view.

Not everyone is born with persistence, but the good news is that just as writing ability can be learned and honed to some extent, it’s possible to become more persistent with practice. Working on persistence in other areas can help you become a more persistent writer as well.

For example, preparing for an athletic event such as running a marathon or climbing a mountain requires a similar amount of persistence because you are training over a long period of time toward a goal that is some distance in the future. As with writing, you become successful by working in small increments toward that goal. You don’t have to run a marathon or climb a mountain in order to be more persistent, but a small exercise programme can help you start to develop the same sort of skills.

Another way to build more persistence is to focus on the process rather than the final outcome. Of course, it’s important to keep your ultimate goal in mind, but if you are enjoying yourself along the way, you are more likely to stick with what you are doing. You can train yourself to enjoy small pleasures such as finishing a difficult scene or working out a thorny plot point.

Persistence is an invaluable quality for success in writing. What qualities and skills have you found are necessary to finish your novel, and what has helped you be more persistent?

Bridget McNulty is the founder of Now Novel an easy-to-use online novel writing course. Now Novel helps writers organize their thoughts and motivate them through the writing process.

(Back to Derek…)

As Bridget points out, the secret to finishing a novel is to keeping writing it until it’s done.

A novel is the result of hundreds of short writing sessions. Spending time with yourself working on your book until it’s done is something that requires a long-term, concerted effort. It requires motivation. It requires sacrifice.

Of course it requires persistence – but what does that mean? And how do we get it?

Here are my best tips for sticking with it and getting the writing done.

1) Get a great cover design, make business cards and tell everyone you’re writing a novel.

There’s no going back now. Unless you’re a loser. You’re not a loser, are you?

2) Pick a popular genre and write something people will buy.

Writing a book for yourself that fails commercially is a tough lesson that you don’t necessarily have to go through. Do some research. Pick a genre that has  huge following of foaming at the mouth hungry readers. Take the elements of all the best sellers in that genre and put them together in a new way, with a new setting and characters. You can take artistic risks when you’re rich. Many of those we consider huge bestselling authors owe their success to cashing in on a trend that was already hot, and they rode it to fame at the right time.

3) Map out where you’re going.

Make a plan. Make scene notes. Make sure you know what’s going to happen in each scene/chapter. It’ll make you write better and faster. I don’t care that it’s not your “process.” Don’t be lazy and flop around with your characters and hope something good happens.

4) Take away your privileges until you’ve done your chores.

As adults we give into our inner child too often. Take the favorite part of your day – the TV episode you want to watch, your Starbucks coffee, your walk in the park, Facebook… and remove it from your agenda. Do the work first. Sit down and write your daily quota, whether it’s 1000 or 5000 words. Or just one hour of focused writing time, regardless of how much you’re producing. Do it first. Don’t check email. Don’t have breakfast. Wake up and WRITE.

5) Writing it fun… unless you’re doing it wrong.

I don’t believe in “writer’s block.” What I believe is you get stuck when you’re trying to make your story do things it doesn’t want to do… when you know there’s a problem but you don’t want to fix it… when you’re unwilling to let go of a scene that doesn’t fit or make sense. You’re stuck because you’re doing it wrong. Take a long, long break – go to the park or the beach, let go of what you are trying to do and allow yourself to imagine new possibilities.

6) Use a notebook (a paper one)

As Bridget mentioned, writing is easy when it’s fun. Once you get started, you’ll probably be writing scenes and conversations in your head all day. You can’t wait until writing time. This is why you should have a notebook with you at all times, to catch ideas as they come though – that way “writing time” is really just transcribing your notes into a word processor and flushing them out a bit. My very best ideas and writing, my most powerful wordplay and choices, are when I’m out with just a paper notebook, completely free to scribble ugly and messy notes.

7) Don’t make it perfect.

And I don’t just mean the rough draft. Writing is a skill that we improve with time. Your first book probably won’t be great… nor your 3rd or 4th. Stop obsessing about the details. Write the damn story as fast as you can, edit it as best as you’re able, slap on a cover and put it online. Hopefully it doesn’t suck too hard and you’ll get quality feedback.

The first book is your love child. You’ll obsess. You’ll care too much. You’ll sink far too much time, effort and money into it, and it will most likely bring you no tangible rewards – but you will have drastically improved yourself as a writer of books. It gets easier and easier. Write quickly. Publish often.

8) Join a group of winners

Being a part of a motivated group of writers can definitely keep you accountable. What you don’t want is to be the hard-working one helping everybody else out. Sure you can learn something from everybody – and you want to help others as much as possible – but it will be better for your to surround yourself with people who are where you want to be, not where you are now.

You want help from experienced experts, not other beginners like you. Signing up for a writing-coach type of program, getting someone ahead of you on the self-publishing journey to give you strategies, feedback and help (as well as just calling to make sure you’ve been writing recently) can really be worth the money.

Now Novel offers some of those options, and if you’ve consistently been unable to write on schedule and actually finish your book, it may be time to ask for help. Think of it as buying a big gift to yourself; the gift of a finished, completed manuscript ready for publishing.

(This is why I recently signed up for, and paid a lot of money for, daily Chinese lessons. Even though I don’t like spending so much money, or having to be somewhere at a certain time everyday, improving my Chinese skills – the end goal – was important enough for me to commit my time and money to get some help).


The basic price at Now Novel – just to use their organizational tools and guides – is $19/month, which I really believe is a great deal for what you’re getting. Showing me my deadline, progress and my cumulative wordcount at the top of my Dashboard is strongly motivational and has help kept me on task (mine says “zero” because I’ve just started using it).



1 Comment

  • Anna Posted

    The links don’t work.

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