As we step into this National Novel Writing Month season, I’m actually finishing a project. This project will be my second published book, but it is the first novel I set out to write. That was 9 years ago, and this week, after many stops and starts, many dead end paths, and writing another book in between, I will type The End, completing this particular journey. There is still a ways to go before I can truly called it finished but there’s something special about bringing a first draft to a close that is at once thrilling and mournful.
Finishing a project is something worth celebrating. In the novel writing world, our projects take an especially long time, which can make it difficult to follow it through to the end. I know many people who want to be published but struggle to finish their projects because when the fruits of our labor take so many years to ripen, it’s only natural to get frustrated or lose hope. I experienced this myself for years, and it’s the biggest emotional roller coaster I’ve ever experienced–to want something so badly and yet not be able to motivate myself to do the work needed to reach my goal.
If you’re participating in National Novel Writing Month this November, I know how hard it is to stick with it for 50,000 words, so I thought I’d share a couple of tips I’ve learned during my 8 NaNoWriMos, and noveling in general, so this month, you can celebrate your own finished project.
Know Your Why
Why do you want to complete this project? What do you hope to accomplish? And no, “I don’t know” isn’t going to work here. Humans NEVER do something without some kind of motivation (a good tip to keep in mind when writing your novel. 😉 ). Motivation is always linked to either the desire to move further away from something, or the desire to move closer to something.
So what do you want to move away from? Or what do you want to move closer to?
Also, keep in mind that, just like our characters, we usually have an internal motivation and an external motivation. An external motivation might be to land an agent and get a publishing contract, while the internal motivation–which is always much stronger–might be to leave behind a legacy, connect with people who have similar interests and viewpoints, or validate that this writing thing isn’t “just a hobby.”
Know both your external and internal motivators and keep them at the forefront of your mind as you work. If you really aren’t sure what yours are, journal on the topic until the answers come to you. And then write them on sticky notes that you post in your workspace so that any time you start to falter, feel like skipping a day, or feel like giving up, you will remember how necessary it is that you sit down and make today’s progress.
Make a Commitment to Someone
This isn’t accountability, per se, and in fact, if you can, I’d like you to move away from that mentality. Over the years, I’ve noticed that the idea of being accountable has deterred more writers than it has helped. Writers tend to be rebellious and anti-authority by nature, so telling us we HAVE to do something almost guarantees we’ll do the opposite. On the other hand, feeling like no one cares whether we finish our project or not (and since we spend months and years toiling away on a single project alone, it often feels that way) is just as ineffective.
There can be a middle ground, though, where it isn’t so much about pressure and “have to”, but about knowing someone truly cares whether or not you finish your book. Sometimes it can be hard to find a friend or family member who can be this person to you, not because they don’t care, but because they don’t fully understand the courage and willpower it takes to write. This is why, so many years ago, I set out to find (and eventually create) a sense of commitment and camaraderie within the writing community. This is what I love about National Novel Writing Month. No one is pushing you to hit your word count goal. Instead, they are running alongside you, encouraging you every step of the way. (I would love to encourage you as well! Join my Facebook group, The Motivated Writer, for camaraderie all year round!)
Listen, I know it’s not easy. I’m not going to insult you with platitudes about nothing worthwhile ever being easy. We already know this, and yet, that doesn’t make going to bed early or sleeping in late any less tempting. What makes it worth pushing through the obstacles, though, is less about the finished project itself, and more about the confidence you gain by staying in integrity with yourself…by holding yourself to what you say you’re going to do. If you struggle to keep the commitments you make to anyone, always follow through on the ones you make to yourself. It’s that confidence that is the real key to succeeding in all your writing career dreams.