(And what to do about it.)
There is no two ways about it: writing a novel is a mammoth task that, if you decide to undertake it, is going to consume a significant amount of your waking hours (unless you’re John Boyne). Even so, persistence should eventually bring you to the point where you’re done: you’ve written a book. If reaching that goal seems more elusive than it should be, it’s time to start analysing what’s really stopping you from completing your novel. We’ve identified four of the most common reasons, as well as solutions to them.
1. Are you constantly trying to get smaller tasks out of the way before sitting down to do some serious work on your novel? Nothing slows down a novel’s progress like a stack of dirty dishes / writing a shopping list / a basket of laundry. Life is full of these little chores, and while it may seems sensible to tick off your to-do list so you can write your novel with a clear conscience (and house), the fact is that those chores are never-ending. There will be more dirty dishes tomorrow, I promise you. If you want to complete your novel, you need to start prioritising your writing time. Allocate clear blocks of time for writing – and do the chores afterwards.
2. Editing as you go can also slow you down more than you realise. Reading over the last couple of paragraphs as you sit down for a new writing session can be a good way of getting back into the story – but it can also lead you to start editing the previous day’s work, instead of writing new words. Remind yourself that there will be chances to edit, later – your task right now is to complete your current draft, and completing that draft will actually give you greater clarity on the edits needed. Another good tip to help you jump straight in is to end each writing session by jotting down a note about what’s going to happen next – and as you sit down to write, read (then delete) that note, instead of reading the previous paragraphs.
3. Endings are difficult. We often talk about wanting to write the perfect opening sentence or the perfect opening chapter, but we forget that the desire to write the perfect ending is also ingrained in the writer’s brain. Indecision over what that perfect ending is for your novel can hold you back from writing those final chapters. There is a frightening feeling of finality that goes with writing the words ‘The End’ – especially if we’re questioning what ‘The Right End’ is for this story. The fact remains that if you want to complete your novel, you’ll need to bite the bullet and choose an ending for it. If you’re struggling to decide, try narrowing it down to three or four different options, then ask your writer friends which option they prefer and why. Their reasoning can help you make a confident decision.
4. Do you find yourself tinkering with draft 17, reading it over ‘just one more time’ and changing a word here and a phrase there, in the name of perfecting your novel? Yes, there are always improvements that could be made to a text, but there comes a point where the degree to which your novel draft is improved by an edit is not worth the time you’ve spent making that edit. At that point, it’s time to shift your focus onto a new writing project. Getting immersed in a new project (and seeing how much real progress you’re able to make in the time you have available when the project is a fresh one) will help you declare your previous project complete.