So many aspiring authors want to start writing a book and finish, yet only a percentage of people achieve this dream. For some, it’s negative self-speak (‘I’m not good enough’ or ‘my central idea sucks’). For others, it’s a combination of struggling with focus, motivation, goal-setting or planning. It’s especially easy to give up if you find the right excuses. Here’s how to start writing a novel and finish it in 7 steps, no excuses:
Step 1: Identify your biggest writing challenges and form a plan of action
Step 2: Make a list of the excuses you tell yourself and print them together with counterarguments. Stick this above or next to your writing space
Step 3: Get organised and plan like a pro
Step 4: Set realistic deadlines and make achieving them a game
Step 5: Take small, frequent breaks, especially when doubts creep in
Step 6: Get an external perspective whenever you need it
Step 7: Schedule future writing sessions and alerts
A little more on each of the above steps:
Step 1: Solve the biggest challenges to start writing a book
Making excuses for not writing often follows a format such as ‘I can’t write believable characters’ or ‘I can’t figure out what comes next after this scene’. If you haven’t yet, sit down and brainstorm what you like least about your writing abilities as well as the writing process itself. This is productive as once you know exactly where you are you can plan a route to where you want to be.
If you find that you really hate writing opening lines, plan some time to research opening lines from your favourite novels, for example. Read over each line, and attempt to memorize it. Write each line without looking at the original and compare to your own. This helps to draw your attention to details of language, from sentence structure to word choice and punctuation. In the end, you’ll absorb the skills of writers who are adept at crafting great first lines.
Once you know where your weak areas lie, you can make a plan to improve them and start writing a book with greater confidence.
Step 2: Remind yourself of your favourite excuses not to write so you can unlearn them
One of the big reasons why we might stop writing is that we get used to justifying not pursuing our goals. It’s easy to say ‘I don’t have time’ for example, even if you watch an hour of TV every day. Instead, cut down to half an hour or watch TV every other day, and use the intervening days for your writing.
Printing out a list of the excuses you tell yourself for not writing will help you notice when you begin to make excuses so that you can stop yourself and question these excuses further. This will help you to shake off unproductive habits.
Step 3: Get organised and start writing a book with focus
The ‘pantser versus plotter’ debate is ancient and it’s true that writers have many different methods for writing novels. Even so, if you’re a pantser and tend to get blocked and create excuses not to write, you should at least try a different approach.
The advantage of having a blueprint for your book is that as you go you will have a sense of the ground beneath your feet. Being a pantser can be giddy, but sometimes you take a step and there’s nothing there to support your developing story. Try one of the 7 different methods of plotting a novel and see if any of them make it easier to start writing a novel.
Step 4: Set realistic writing deadlines and make reaching your targets fun
One of the reasons we make the excuse ‘I don’t have time to write’ is that we expect the time to fly by. When the ‘work’ aspect of creative writing appears, it feels like we’ll have to give up our entire lives just to finish a book. Instead, set realistic deadlines for yourself. Work in small increments. When you’re writing 250 words per day, it’s easier to reach your targets and the sense of achievement you feel will help you to press onward.
Whenever you reach a writing target, reward yourself. This is important. You won’t want to make excuses to not write when writing gives you a sense of reward and positive achievement almost every time.
Step 5: Give yourself brief rests when you need to, especially when inclined to give up
The things we tell ourselves and objective reality don’t always match up. For example, you might say ‘I can’t write and I’ll never finish this novel’ when your mind is really telling you that you need a refreshing break. Give yourself a day or even a week off writing if you need to. Working ‘smart’ depends as much on using your working time productively as it does on using your off time to unwind and not focus on your story.
Read Kate Kellaway’s old but good post on becoming a writer and how 5 successful authors made it.
Step 6: Get an external perspective to see through your own excuses
Sometimes you’re simply too entangled in your own experience of writing to extract yourself and see your writing process – what’s working and isn’t – objectively. This is where belonging to a writing group and/or having a writing coach to talk to helps. Another person’s perspective on your work can provide the boost you need to lay aside your most familiar excuses and knuckle down.
Step 7: Schedule your writing time and create reminders
Do you enter writing time on a calendar and forget all about the session? Services such as Google Calendar can be useful since you can set notifications to sound on your phone or emails alerts that remind you of the times you’ve set aside for writing. When you continuously receive reminders, it’s harder to let yourself off the hook and avoid writing.
Start writing a book now with the help of the Now Novel process.