Do you have a kickass book inside you that you just can’t seem to get onto the page? You’re in the right place.
Maybe you’ve been working on the same first draft for ten years. Maybe you set your project aside when life got a little too crazy and just haven’t picked it back up yet. Maybe you have the perfect novel idea all lined up in your head… but you freeze up like a deer in the headlights any time you sit down at the keyboard to work.
Any of these sound familiar? Probably. I’ve run into some variation of all three of these situations during my years of professional writing—and I’m sure I’ll run into them again in the future. So, how have I managed to muscle past these struggles and actually finish my books?
There’s no silver bullet solution to finishing a manuscript. But every time I get stuck one or multiple of these seven tips always manage to get me back on track.
Where The Heck Did I Learn These Novel Writing Tips?
Let’s get the awkward bit out of the way: Why the hell should you listen to me?
I don’t know, maybe you shouldn’t! Novel writing is an art, after all, not a science… as much as the left-brained parts of us might desperately wish it was that formulaic at times. All the advice I’m going to share in this post is completely subjective. But where did I get this advice in the first place?
Some of it I learned through trial and error. There are a lot of people out there who have been writing longer than I have, but I’ve been in the game for a decade at this point, and I’ve learned a thing or two along the way.
A lot of the lessons in this post are things I picked up from other writers. Friends and acquaintances who are also trying to do this crazy thing called “be an author.”
Lastly, some of these tips are things I found in places like this: Writing blogs and resources! A few of my favorite resources and writing blogs are listed below so you can check them out for advice and tips that might click for you, even if this post doesn’t!
Alright, now, let’s get started.
1. Block Out Time
One of the most common responses I get when people hear I’ve written novels is, “Oh, I’d love to write a novel if I had the time.”
If you want to see a midlist author turn into a living *internally screaming* meme, say this line to them sometime. Are there some authors who write full-time? Absolutely. Have some of them been fortunate to write full-time their entire careers? Sure! Is that the case for most writers?
Almost every single writer I know has a day job, or kids, or is in school, or has some combo of these things going on. They still manage to write books. You know their secret? They make the time to do it.
That’s right, tip number one for finishing your novel: Carve out the time to finish your novel.
If you’re a calendar person, you might want to actually use time-blocking to schedule time you can use for writing. Otherwise, set a timer or put your phone on “Do Not Disturb” for an hour or two any time you sit down to write. If you're expecting the universe to hand you buckets of writing time, you're in for a rough road.
You don’t have to set crazy writing goals, either. You can chip away at your novel a few hundred words at a time, or you can smash out a few thousand words at a time. Either way, if you stick with it long enough, you’ll end up with a first draft.
Too busy to write in giant blocks of time? No problem, I’ve got you covered: Top Five Times to Squeeze in Writing
2. Study Story Structure
I’m pretty sure no one is born knowing how to write a book. Sure, some people have a knack for it or some natural writing talent, but being a decent writer and understanding how to write a whole-ass book are not one and the same.
If you’ve written the first five chapters a dozen times or if you keep stutter-stepping before you make it a thousand words in, this bullet point might be particularly relevant for you.
For me, when I experience what a lot of people call Writer’s Block, it’s usually because I’m stuck on a structural snag. I can’t write Scene 4 because I missed crucial setup back in Scene 2, for example. Or perhaps I’m having trouble with a big emotional moment because I botched the character’s motivations in the scenes leading up to it.
Regardless of how you feel about plotting novels beforehand versus discovering the plot as you write, understanding the underlying structure of stories can only help you as you try to finish your own.
3. Read, Read, Read
This one’s pretty simple. Stephen King said it best: “If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write.”
You might feel like you have time to read or you have time to write, but if you want to write a novel—and do it well—you need to make time for both. Reading is vital for a lot of reasons. First, it helps you understand the story structure concepts we talked about in tip #2.
Reading is also essential because it gives you a sense of what’s currently selling. Like it or not, novel writing is a business. No major company would ever launch a new product without doing market research. Similarly, you can’t expect to write (and sell) a book if you don’t know what kinds of books readers are currently looking for.
Do you have to read every bestseller? No, absolutely not. But should you have a general sense of the titles that are selling well in your genre, and should you read at least a few of them? On hundred percent.
4. Find a Writing Community
Writing is a super solitary activity. Give me a pen and paper or a laptop, and, theoretically, I don’t need anything else to write. Right?
For a single writing session? That’s correct - even ideal.
For an entire novel? Not so much.
Writing a novel is a long, arduous process. Trying to sell and share that novel is even moreso. You’re going to want some people in your corner while you go through this process: Trust me.
Your writing community will serve many purposes throughout your novel-writing process. A few of the roles you’ll need them for are:
Emotional support: Writing a novel is hard. You need cheerleaders and commiserators. Thankfully, a lot of other people are also trying to write a novel right now. Be there for each other.
Beta readers: Writing a novel in a vacuum is hard, if not impossible. To make your story the best it can be, you need feedback. Making friends with other writers means you can trade beta reads—give each other feedback on your work, and help each other grow.
Friends: You probably have lots of friends already. How many do you have that are also undergoing the Herculean task of novel-writing? As sympathetic as your other friends may be to your struggles, you might want some friends who Actually Get It. Your writer buddies can be those friends.
Writer friends can push you when you need to be pushed and help buoy you when writing life has got ya down. Having a supportive community can be the difference between finishing your novel and abandoning it like a New Year’s Resolution.
5. Take the Pressure Off
You want to write the Next Great American Novel? Maybe you want to be the next Robert Jordan or Mary Higgins Clark? Awesome.
This draft is not where that’s gonna happen.
I’m not trying to be a Debbie Downer here. The project you’re working on might be a NYT bestseller someday—seriously! But I guarantee your first draft is not. So, stop treating each sentence in your draft like it needs to be something worthy of a sacred text.
Don't listen to Paul Hollywood up there in that gif! Instead, take a deep breath and allow yourself to write some stuff that might be absolute shit. I always think of Shannon Hale’s comments that a first draft is just gathering sand—the editing and revising process is where you’ll actually build your sandcastle.
Sometimes, taking the pressure off is all it takes to get you unstuck and get the words flowing again.
6. Tell Impostor Syndrome to Fuck Off
You know that little voice in the back of your head that’s telling you you can’t do this? That you’re “not a real writer?” That you’ll never be as good as [INSERT WRITER XYZ HERE], so what’s the point in trying?
Yeah, that voice is an idiot. Tell it to fuck off and get back to work.
You @ your impostor syndrome ^
7. Follow the “Butt in Seat” Rule
Lastly, the best novel writing tip is… ahm… write your novel.
You can block off time, build confidence, make writer friends, and do all the rest to your heart’s content. But if you don’t actually make yourself tap away at the keyboard and chip away at your novel, bit by bit, you’re not going to be able to finish your manuscript.
Write when you feel inspired. Write when you don’t feel inspired. Get up early to write or stay up late to write. When you start forcing yourself to actually get the work in, you start telling yourself on a deeper level that this matters to you.
Once you internalize that finishing your novel matters, there’s nothing that can stop you.
Putting These Novel Writing Tips Into Action
Hopefully these tips have you feeling fired up and ready to get back at the keyboard!
There’s no one true path to writing a book, but if you’re looking for more nitty-gritty tips to get cracking on your novel, check out some of these related posts:
Writing a novel isn’t easy, but with these novel writing tips, hopefully you have the tools (and the kick in the pants) you need to get moving again. You better finish that novel, damnit. Cause I wanna read it someday!