This week I finally finished another round of revisions on my novel. Wait, let me say that another way. After three months, I finally finished another round of edits, as well as the three-month round before that, and the three-month round before that, and the year of rewrites before that, and the year and a half of rewrites before that, on top of the five months of writing the initial draft. Sound familiar? If you’re a novelist, I’m sure it does. Writers are nothing if not marathon-ers. It’s the nature of the craft.
But it sure as hell isn’t easy.
I’ve given up a thousand and one times over the four years I’ve been shaping this novel, and felt absolutely sure I’d never finish it a thousand and two times. It’s hard to stay focused on the end goal when it’s just so far away, and there’s so much work to do between here and there. There’s a reason most people who starting writing a novel don’t finish. When the demons of self-doubt are raging and the progress is slow, how does a writer summon up the courage to keep going?
Here are some ideas:
Research. And I’m not just talking to historical writers here. For every novel, there is a theme, a career path, a relationship, a hobby, an era, a setting–something–that got you interested in writing the book in the first place. We all do some amount of research to properly portray those subjects at the beginning of the project, but usually research tapers off the further in we get. The thing is, new information breeds new ideas, and new ideas breed excitement. When you start to feel complacent in your story world, discover something new about it! Get excited about it again!
Stay Balanced. Writers are an obsessive bunch, especially when it comes to our work. Sure, we take care of our family commitments (because they’ll nag at us if we don’t), but otherwise, we often get so involved in the story, hitting a word count, or meeting a deadline, that we stop eating well, exercising, seeing friends, enjoying our others hobbies (remember those?), and taking time just to be. Obsession creates a very unhappy soul and an unhappy soul lacks confidence and has a harder time being productive. The best cure I’ve found is setting a time frame and sticking to it. If I complete my two hours, no matter how many words I did or didn’t write, I have succeeded for the day. The rest of the day, I dedicate to the other areas of my life.
Accomplish Other Things. I think the hardest part about long-term projects is that there are a lot less accomplishments along the way. Sure, it’s nice to complete a scene or a chapter, but it isn’t done. It isn’t check-it-off-the-list and celebrate done. And because writing is a process, even when we think it’s done, that’s only until the next round of revisions. In order to feel confident in our ability to be productive, we have to produce regularly. We need to chalk up accomplishments more than once a year. This is what I love about blogging. It gives me the opportunity to finish something on a regular basis. Other ideas are submitting short stories to magazines and anthologies, submitting articles to publications, volunteering in your writing communities, running promo campaigns online, etc. Whatever you do, do something, and make sure you finish it.
The thing about long-term projects is that it gives us a lot more time to think about how things could go wrong, whether or not we’re capable of completing the task and completing it well, and to lose sight of why that novel is important in the first place. But with a little brain trickery, we can keep our motivation and confidence high, shifting our productivity into an upward spiral. Because the more you get done, the more you want to get done. Productivity begets productivity.
After all, there really is something to that saying that if you want something done, give it to a busy person.