Thursday, June 24, 2010

The #1 Reason You'll Never Finish Writing Your Novel

I know, I know, the title for this post definitely sounds a little ominous.

But Betsy's post yesterday really inspired me in terms of providing you, my fellow fiction writers, some useful tips for keeping your novel writing chugging along at full steam.

On one of my favorite writing websites, Write it Sideways, Suzannah talks the hurdles that inevitably hold us back from making the real progress we're always striving for.

Here's what she had to say...

If you find the process taking longer than you want, and you’re beginning to lose motivation to finish, consider if you’re making any of the following choices that affect your writing:
  • Are you stalling to correct typos, spelling mistakes and grammar?
  • Do you feel the need to perfect a passage of writing before moving on?
  • Are you obsessing over whether to delete things you might not use in the finished product?
  • Do you find yourself constantly interrupting your writing to conduct research?
  • When you re-read passages you’ve already written, do you stop to criticize yourself?

What do these 5 behaviors have in common? What is the #1 reason you’ll never finish writing your novel?

You Aren’t Actually Writing

Making corrections isn’t writing. Conducting research isn’t writing. Re-reading, criticizing and tinkering aren’t actually writing. The ugly truth is that you’re actually procrastinating.

If you’re engaging in these 5 behaviours, you’ve become your own worst enemy. You’re not allowing yourself to move on. You’re not letting yourself get the first draft written.

And (at the risk of sounding obvious) if you don’t write, you can’t finish your novel.

How to Get it Written

Don’t get in the way of your own success. Follow these tips to help you get back on the road to finishing your book:

  • Don’t self-edit. Don’t worry about making minor technical errors, or spend time fixing them. That’s what revision and proofreading are for. Besides, you’re more likely to notice these mistakes once you’ve given your first draft some room to breathe.
  • Use a writer-friendly program. Writing a novel in a regular word processor seems like madness to me–only, that is, after I discovered a number of wonderful writing programs. Scrivener is my choice because it makes it easy to organize my scenes and chapters. When I wonder whether I should delete things or hold onto them, I simply create a new text file and paste in the passage. That way it’s easily accessible whenever I want to refer back to it. No obsessing needed.
  • Research later. The major research you need to do for your novel should be done ahead of time. But, when it comes to minor details or fact-checking, simply highlight, underline, or otherwise mark areas that need to be researched. You can then continue writing, uninterrupted, and not forget to fill in the details once you’ve got your first draft completed.
  • Get down the bones. Some writers make the mistake of worrying about getting every scene perfected before moving on to the next. Spending too much time perfecting means you’ll be moving along at a snail’s pace–hardly good for productivity. If you know a scene must appear at a specific time, but you’re having trouble writing it, simply jot down some dialogue or description that indicates what will take place when you flesh out the scene. Move right along to the next scene, and come back to the difficult one a bit later.
  • Be kind to yourself. What are the chances you’re going to write perfect prose in the first draft? Not likely. Instead of looking back at what you’re written and beating yourself up over its lack of refinement, give yourself a pat on the back, and remind yourself of how far you’ve come. Remember, you’ll probably be making significant changes later.


  1. I used a program called Live Journal a few years ago when I was still in high school. I thought it had a lot of cool additions to it, but I only had the free version. Thanks for these tips. I laughed at myself because they were all true about me!

  2. Yeah, I found myself connecting with a few myself, Lauren. :)

  3. Thank you for this great advice! I've dreamed of writing a children's picture book (with a Godly focus) for a very long time and I can see some of this procrastination in me. I've got the ideas...I just need to write! Thanks for the "push."!!

    Thank You!