Thursday, November 10, 2011

When Writing a Novel seems Insurmountable

On the weekend I attended a Speculative Fiction Writers' Festival which was held at the NSW Writers' Centre. It was a brilliant gathering of like-minded writers. One of the questions asked of the successful novelists on the panels was whether or not they had to give up anything to pursue their careers.

In summary, here are the answers to facing the mammoth task of writing novels for a living:

Expect hard work. You have to know what you are getting into from the start. Don't get sucked into the romance of becoming a novelist. It's a lot of hard, slow, lonely work. Going in with eyes wide open, will help prepare you for what is to come.

Get organised. If you are organised and set yourself priorities, then you won't have to give up anything. The only thing you may have to do is cut back on some things when a deadline is looming.

Hold onto the Joy. Try to remember why you started writing in the first place. Try not to think of it as a chore, but a creative outlet.

Take short breaks. If a large project is causing you difficulties, allow yourself a break from it. This doesn't mean you have to stop writing. Try writing short stories or articles.

And, in extreme circumstances when a story begins to stagnate:
The Traffic Light Rule: One author says she uses the theory that if she isn't passionate enough about a novel that she isn't thinking about it when she's doing nothing eg sitting at traffic lights, then it might be time to let the story go until she can find the passion for it again. I will add, this isn't for everyone and sometimes Grim Determination is what it takes to finish a novel.

How do you get over the huge task of finishing a novel?


  1. Great post! I really love and agree with The Traffic Light Rule. If I feel that passion for a novel, to finish it I go with the Nike commercial slogan--"Just do it."

  2. Thanks for a most insightful posts. I do tend to divert into short story writing and short breaks - they help me most. But I thoroughly believe that finishing a novel (including edits, polishing etc) is truly down to hard, relentless, unending blood sweat and tears, work.

    Take care

  3. One chapter at a time. It is slow, hard work.

    The conference sounds great.

  4. Not just organized in your life; organizing your writing can help. I'm a planner, so maybe this is more important to me, but I find keeping my notes and ideas organized, my research easily accessible so I don't need to research it again, it makes a big difference.

  5. These are great tips! So glad you shared. I learn so much from conferences.

    When I am struggling, I usually just write the next chapter and then I find something that sparks my interest again, OR I read a good book! That always inspires me to get back to work. :)

  6. Oo, I love The Traffic Light Rule! Well said.

    Great post, Lynda! :)

  7. Is that the view from your living room window? :P
    How is jury duty going on, dahling?

  8. I enjoy the hard work of writing a novel. It's like working on a giant word maze puzzle. I can't stop until I get it figured out.

  9. The Traffic Light Rule--that's an interesting point.

  10. Great points. I dunno about letting a story go--maybe because I hate to give up on things. I think it's more about finding the passion, or just working on it UNTIL you rediscover the passion. I agree with the Grim Determination to an extent. If your passion isn't there, your novel is probably going to lack a bit of spunk and spark. The reader will be able to tell.

  11. Cynthia, haha yes! Same here.

    Old Kitty, it's certainly not a walk in th epark ;)

    Mary, it was brilliant. You would have LOVED it!! So many lovers of scifi and fantasy in one place.

    Matt, yes, that's a great point. I think even those who don't preplan their writing can benefit from a little organisation.

    Abby, reading good books are what first sparked the desire to write, so yes, you are so right.

    Carrie, it is kinda nifty.

  12. Dezzy, ha! No, that pic was taken in the Grampians, Victoria (south Australia). And I wasn't picked for Jury Duty which was a good thing because 1. It was a murder trial with icky details and 2. I can now concentrate on writing my next book.

    Luanne, yes! it is like working on a giant puzzle.

    Golden, I will stress, it's not a rule that will work for everyone.

    Carol, yes, I agree with both your points. It's also why I've stressed the traffic light rule isn't for everyone. For me, if I keep working on a novel, whether I feel passionate about it or not, I will eventually find that passion again.

  13. Wow, heartfelt and deep responses. Sounds like a truly worthwhile conference:)

  14. Guess I pass the traffic light rule - time to start outlining the next book!

  15. I love this points! I'm an advocate of taking breaks to help you remember to enjoy the process. That's what I'm doing right now. :)

  16. I thought those were mists of Avalon :)

  17. I rely on friends to motivate me. They push me when I need it, and generally speaking once I'm into it, I am really into it.

  18. I haven't gotten over the huge task...I'm still writing my 2nd novel...and I'm 2 years in.

    I like the ideas and the honesty in your post!

  19. I do take it one chapter at a time, same for editing.

  20. I want to say Grim Determination, but that's really only for the last rounds of edits, when most of the creative work is done. The thing that propels me forward? Knowing people will read the story. #awesome

  21. In a word, excellent. Thank you, Lynda.

  22. These are all great points, Lynda. I take breaks to do other writing or an art or crafts project. That seems to help.

  23. Personally, when I'm in the finishing stages of a first draft, I obsessively thing about the ending. I think about what the characters will say, I think about the last climactic line, I go over it a thousand times, and get myself completely pumped. Then, by the time I get to the end, I'll race to the finish line on a literary high because I finally get to write this thing I've been planning at least fifty to a hundred pages earlier.

    I know it can be hard to let go of a really good story, but if you're excited to write the end, it's a lot easier.

  24. I haven't - yet. I've written several first drafts but I'm struggling with editing. I haven't decided if that means the story is wrong or I'm just not committed enough. Still trying to work it out :-)

  25. I don't have any answers right now, as I'm currently trying to pull myself out of a writing rut, but this is GREAT advice, Lynda. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with us.

  26. I just love the traffic light rule. I'm going to remember that one.

  27. I "imagine" my story forward when I can't sleep at night...then the next day I write pieces of what I imagined.

  28. Excellent tips. It's certainly not easy, but it should be fulfilling.

    And I wholeheartedly agree about stopping if it's not the right story for you. My computer is filled with chapter ones that I didn't want to continue. If I'm not feelin' it, I move on.

  29. I break it up into word count goals and grind through it. Just getting that first draft is huge motivation for me.

  30. Finishing a novel is really hard work. I've been rewriting the same paragraph over and over to the point that I know I'm fussing over words but it never feels done. So I guess the way to finish for me is just to step away and let go.

  31. This all sounds like excellent advice. I guess I haven't gotten over the huge task of finishing a novel since I still don't have a finished product to show. Maybe I should blog less? Oh, my sweet addiction.

    A Faraway View

  32. Great tips! How do you finish a novel? Still trying to figure that one out...

  33. Expect hard work is SO true. Anyone who thinks writing a novel is easy because it involves lots of typing is just a little bit mad. Fun, yes. Easy all the time, definitely not!

  34. Mark, it was indeed

    Alex, good to hear!

    Shallee, yep, breaks are necessary

    Dezzy, yes, it is a remarkable place.

    Jessie, it's good to have that kind of support.

    Mohamed, yep, my first couple of novels took me forever to write.

    Romance, thanks

    Tonja, it's a smart way to go about it.

    Susan, haha yes! That last round of edits certainly does take grim determination ;)

    Suze, hugs

    Lynn, oh yes, arts and crafts are so creative too.

  35. McKenzie, ha! I love the way you finish a first draft!

    Sarah, editing can be exceptionally difficult because that's when we have to start questioning everything. I hope you keep at it.

    Alyssia, a writing rut???? nooooo. I hope you climb out of the rut soon.

    Clarissa, it's cool isn't it.

    Liza, wish I could do that. I come up with genius ideas when I can't sleep, only to forget them in the morning.

    Theresa, totally agree with what you said about writing needing to be fulfilling.

    Deana, yep, I personally like the word count goals too.

    Michael, distances certainly helps with the obsessive rewriting.

    Lee, haha, I've also tried to blog less, but I haven't been successful ;)

    Liz, best of luck with working it out ;)

    Miss Cole, anyone who thinks writing a novel is easy hasn't tried ;)

  36. I've certainly learned the importance of taking a break from various works for a time. Sometimes a short break, sometimes a long one. That distance really comes in handy!

  37. For me, I arrived with a lot of determination. Although I'm a little sloppy on the organisational side, I always pull through. If anyone says writing is easy (yes, I've heard someone say that, grrr) they are not writers! It takes time and hard work. And yes, yes, short breaks are important! Thanks for an excellent post.

  38. "W.I.P. IT" has been included in this weeks Sites To See. I hope this helps to attract many new visitors here.

  39. Holding onto the joy is so important--sometimes when I'm having trouble with a story I go and play instead, write little episodes about my characters at other times in their lives, or explore side characters, until I want to come back.

  40. I think my biggest motivator is thinking about getting to the next step. When I'm outlining, I can't wait to write the rough draft. When I'm drafting, I can't wait to edit. When I'm editing, I can't wait to start querying. My excitement for the next step keeps pushing me along on the step I'm at.

  41. Like Lisa I imagine the story in my mind like a movie. Grim determination sounds grim.


  42. All wonderful advice. I was nodding my head as I read each bullet point. Thanks, Lynda!

  43. Lynda..this post is so apt for me right now as I am battling many writing demons. Each point strikes home with precision for us writers.

  44. This comment has been removed by the author.

  45. Hey, I'm Brinna. I write a blog about writing, freelancing, books and reviews. I'd love to have you write a guest post for my blog. If you're interested, please let me know.


  46. Conferences are great! These are such great tips. I love holding onto the joy! It is moments like that to keep you going!

  47. I wrote my first trilogy when I was unemployed. I haven't completed a novel since, although I have 4 or 5 novel length ideas in progress.

    I've been working on short stories, and two novellas. At least its writing something; and I revisit the novel ideas when something motivates me to write on it for a long stint.

    Thanks for sharing these conference tips. I'd love to go to another conference- hopefully next year . .


  48. Love your header.


    Stopping by to look around...very nice blog.


  49. Oh, too funny, I'm writing a post on a similar topic. I like the traffic light idea. If one lane isn't working, turn left or right towards something new!

  50. These were all wonderful points.

    I have to get organized and less distracted. During the summer I had a hard time finishing a project, so I switched to my laptop (with no internet enabled) and had a better time focusing on it.

    I also make use of "empty" time. I've worked on wips at airports, on airplanes, in hotel rooms, and so many other places where I could have listened to music, read a book, or watched TV instead. I also work well in public places.

  51. Great post! I'm going to work on setting myself a writing schedule in my daytimer each week, just like it was an appointment.

  52. I like that Traffic Light thing. I do a lot of writing in my head while on the commute.

  53. Trisha, yes, breaks give me distance AND sanity ;)

    Joanne, yes, determination is a necessary element, I think.

    FishHawk, thanks so much

    Amie, yes, that's an excellent tip.

    Susan, I love it! It is like that, isn't it. It's part of the joy I think.

    Denise, yep, grim determination does sound grim, but sometimes that's all that gets me through.

    Emily, thanks

    Rachna, I hope it helps with those writing demons of yours.

    Brinna, Nice to meet you. I'll send you an email if I can find it.

    Maeve, Yes, and I went to another conference on the weekend.

  54. Donna, any writing is good writing. Just don't give up.

    Elizabeth, thanks, my header was designed by Dezmond from Hollywood spy. Welcome!

    Deniz, ha, I like your extra take on the traffic light too.

    Medeia, it's fantastic you can work in different environments. I'll often change my environment as well to spur the inspiration.

    Sharon, YAY!! I hope your new schedule works for you.

    Jon, yes, having that thinking time is great.


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