How to Write a Novel: No Time Like The Present

Dear Reader;

Part three of my How to Write a Novel series (a break it down to the basics how to guide), today I’m going to focus on something that I often find myself struggling with: Time management.

No Time Like The Present

At some point in every person’s life, you run into the issue of procrastination. Mostly we think of this in terms of our jobs, responsibilities, or our schoolwork. How often do you think of procrastination in terms of hobbies? And probably a lot of you (or your family) consider writing a “hobby”. And therein lies the first problem.

If you want to be an author, writing is not a hobby. It’s a vocation.

Now that we’ve gotten that cleared up, we can start really addressing the crux of your “I never seem to get anywhere writing,” “I can’t seem to focus when I sit down to write,” and “I’ll never finish anything” problems.

So you’ve decided you want to write a novel. We’ve just done all of this brainstorming and concept working and now you’re trying to sit down and bring it all together – and you can’t. All of this leg work and now you hit a wall. You haven’t put a single word on paper (or on the computer) that can be used as part of the actual manuscript. And now you want to know: Why?

Well, there are probably a bunch of reasons. First, the chances of you not having *any* material you can include in your manuscript is probably not true. I’ll bet you have random scenes between characters, talking or arguing or running through the woods from a pack of wolves… These scenes don’t seem to have any purpose yet, but don’t toss them. You never know, they might end up being the crux of your entire story.

Next, let’s address some of those problem statements above.

“I never seem to get anywhere writing.”

Of course you do. You’ve gotten this far and even if you’re only still brainstorming, you’ve gotten somewhere. Anything you’ve thought about, brainstormed, sketched out, talked out with your BFF, all of that is “getting somewhere”. Now you’ve just got to take the next leap to the paper. This is maybe a little preemptive since we still need to outline and do a couple of other things, but I want to address this now. Procrastination can kill a project. And that’s probably half of where this statement is coming from.

You love to write, right? Otherwise you wouldn’t even be doing this. So how can you be procrastinating? Well, it happens. Mostly it’s because writing tends to take a back seat to everything else. (Kids, significant others, responsibilities, chores, other engagements, TV soap operas…) And that’s a big problem. Like I said above, this isn’t just your hobby anymore. This is your job. Maybe it isn’t your main job. Maybe it isn’t your biggest source of income. (Okay, it’s definitely not.) But if it means this much to you, then you need to give it some time and that means treating it like anything else: This is something I have to get done. Not tomorrow or next week. Today. Once you start treating this like something that you *have* to do, you can start getting serious about it. Maybe you’ll still have some issues, though, so lets bump on down to the second “I can’t” statement.

“I can’t seem to focus when I sit down to write.”

Shh, I’m going to say this phrase, but don’t hate me – and don’t repeat it. No one wants to even think about this, but I need to mention it here so that we can address it. Writer’s block. I know, if ever there was a bad word, that combination makes the list. But it comes up so often when talking about writing that we can’t just ignore it and hope it goes away. We have to face it head on.

And that’s exactly what I’m going to suggest you do. (Or one of the things anyway.)

When you sit down to write, staring at a blank page, no idea where to start, realize that it doesn’t matter. When you’re first starting, this first draft is just not that important. (On the other hand it’s incredibly important, but it’s not in the case of starting out.) It’s not important because the chances of it looking like you’re *final* draft are very slim. Some people are lucky and talented enough that they can write a single draft on a never ending roll of toilet paper, transfer it to the typewriter, and call it good. For the rest of us, there could be as many as four or more drafts. So don’t worry so much about the first one. For our purposes, getting the first draft done is more important than what you actually end up putting in it.

Counter intuitive, I know, but that’s the honest truth right there.

Later, when you’ve got a rough draft finished, we’ll go through and clean it up, pick it apart, add some new scenes, and call that a second draft. But for now, let’s just get to the writing. The fun part, remember? And if you think you’re suffering from you-know-what don’t worry. There are some things you can do to help out with this. Try out these tips for focusing:

  • Pick a time that you like to write, and write at that same time every day.
  • Pick a place that you like to write in, and dedicate it only for writing.
  • Listen to instrumental music if lyrics distract you; make a playlist of songs that have a similar theme to whatever you’re writing (these can include lyrics if they help you, but if you find them distracting stick with the instrumental).
  • Stay away from the internet. Seriously. It is death to writers. (It also happens to be a great resource…) The thing is, the internet is distracting. Trust me. It’s one of the biggest hurdles for me. If I have access to the internet, I’ll spend hours dinking around with that rather than writing, so just cut yourself off if you can. That being said, it is a wonderful resource. Need a name that means wolf? No problem. Not sure if that’s a real word? We can do that, too. Not sure how a bullet travels through water? (It basically doesn’t.) The answers here, too! So yes, very helpful. Which is why I suggest: do your research first. Find names you like, make notes of words that maybe don’t flow, figure out some of the problems with your writing and look them up at a different time. I know that’s a pain, but it’ll keep you focused.
  • Hand write it. This works for some people. It used to work for me, but I find that I can’t write fast enough to keep up with what I’m thinking about, so I think this depends on the speed of your handwriting, the speed of your typing, and the comfort level of each. Some things I still hand write, but it’s usually outlining stuff rather than the full draft (because seriously? That’s at least 50,000 words on paper!). Still, it’s a useful exercise and you might try it to at least start out if you’re having trouble.
  • Start writing. Anything. Even if it just sounds like junk or rambling, run on sentences. So long as you start putting something on the paper. This seems weird, but a lot of times you just need something on the paper before you can really get into your story. This is why a lot of the time you’ll end up chopping out at least the first chapter of your novel. It’s irrelevant/boring/doesn’t make sense/no longer works with the rest of the novel/etc. And that’s okay. For now, we just want to get started.
  • Don’t get held up on grammar/spelling right now. Hopefully you can mitigate mistakes by having some experience, but if you don’t, don’t worry. That’s what editing is for. (Just don’t skip it later on!) So long as you can figure out what you were trying to say, perfection isn’t extremely important right now. I know that seems blasphemous, but if you’re worried about it from the get-go, you’re going to get stuck on the details and never make any progress.
  • Leave it in. (Notice this was bolded AND underlined? Yeah, it’s important.) This one is simple and probably the hardest thing to do. When you’re first writing, whatever it is, even if you instantly don’t like it, leave it in. (The exception here might be names. If you name your character Jill and you change it to Julian by chapter two, you should go back and change the Jill parts. Mostly because you’ll confuse yourself if you don’t.)

Some of these will work pretty universally – some of them won’t. I have a hard time “picking a place and time” because both myself and my significant other work at home. I can’t focus if he’s there and he can’t not talk to me (because we’d like to spend time together, thank you very much). Which means that I have to rotate around my house looking for new places to write from. But when I can, I like to work from the library in one of two areas, especially because there’s no internet. But if you *can* do these things, you should try them. And if they still don’t work for you, move on to the next thing.

“I’ll never finish anything.”

Yes. You. Will. If you want it bad enough. But honestly, if you are really having issues with finishing and this is stalling you from writing (disheartening/frustrating/depressing), then try this: write a short story.

Okay, yes, I know you probably want a novel, but a short story has it’s benefits. I have always struggled to “finish”. My stories all remain about half done (some not even that far) and I just can’t seem to make myself reach that final push. But when I became a ghostwriter, that changed. Now, I finish a *lot* of novels. (About one and a half per month!) The way this happens is because some of what I write are novellas. Short novels. (Which are longer than short stories, but they can serve the same purpose here.) Sometimes, you just need to know that you’ve finished something and a lower word count can really save your bacon in that respect. It reinvigorates you and reminds you that you can do this.

So try a short story, it can be about anything and doesn’t have to have anything to do with your current novel plot. But if you want, make it the “prequel” or a “special scene from” or a short novella about another character that isn’t your protagonist, but is from the same world. If it evolves into something greater eventually, great, but remember this story is about finishing. You can expand it or scrap it later. For now, just get it done and feel the pride that comes with that.

My only other suggestion for getting something finished is this: don’t give up. It may take you a year or more, but you can do this. Just have some patience and determination. And don’t worry about whatever everyone else is doing.

That’s all for today, folks! Thanks for checking out my “How To” series and I hope you pop in for my next addition “Characters We Love – And Love To Hate” focusing on, you guessed it, characters. If you have any questions or tips, comment and share them below!

Sincerely,

E.C. Orr

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