Changing the world's opinion… as soon as we finish this math homework
You are not a failure.
Now, I know. It’s really easy for me to say that; it’s a lot harder for me to mean it. But today, I’m being entirely serious: you are not a failure.
Yeah, I know sometimes it feels like you are. I know you work so hard, write so much, and yet you still feel so far away from achieving your goal. I know you just want to finish one single novel, to put a stop to that endless trail of scrapped, unfinished projects behind you. I know, because I’ve been there.
In fact, we’ve all been there. Writing a novel is almost certainly one of the most difficult things a person can do, and I doubt you can find a single writer who had not written and quit at least a few different books before finishing his or her first. It happens to all of us–all of us–and the fact that you care enough about completing yours to even read this post just proves that you have what it takes. That, with just a little time and determination, you will do it. You will finish. And when you do? It will taste sweeter than you ever imagined.
But here’s the thing: there’s no one way to write a novel. There’s no secret formula for getting those pesky shiny new ideas to just shut up already and wait until you finish this book first. There isn’t even a set amount of unfinished novels you have to write before you’re able to make one work. It all varies, because as writers, we all have our own processes; so whether it takes you ten or zero unfinished novels to complete your first one, it doesn’t matter, because one day, it will happen.
To give you some perspective: in one of his vlogs, John Green mentioned that it took him four years of stopping and starting to finish his first novel, Looking For Alaska. Four years. And this is the guy who is without a doubt one of the most beloved authors in the YA community today. So if you’re struggling to finish a novel, you are not a failure. Because, believe me, if you’re in the same boat as John Green was, you are on a pretty freaking fantastic boat.
And yes, despite what you may think now, you’ll complete a novel eventually, whether it’s four weeks or four months or even four years from now. With just enough luck and determination, you will do it, and since you’ve already had all of that writing practice, I’m going to bet that your first book will be seriously good.
Or, if you’d rather me translate that into shouty-bolded-all-caps script:
YOU ARE AWESOME.
YOUR WORDS ARE AWESOME.
NOW GO FORTH AND FINISH THAT MASTERPIECE.
And when you do, we can go do the Stephen Colbert dance together:
But okay, a battle-cry is one thing; actually figuring out how to overcome your writer’s block and finish that novel is totally different. So I’m going to offer a suggestion. Please keep in mind that this is neither the only way nor the best way to finish a book; it’s just a way, but since it has worked for me and a number of others as well, I wanted to at least share it.
One thing I noticed while I was trying to complete my first book was that I kept reaching about the 10,000-word mark in my novels-to-be, getting bored because I didn’t know what to write next (and also because I’d always have a much shinier, untainted idea in my head), and then eventually abandoning that book for a new one. That process repeated many times over (why does this feel strangely like a love affair?), but I just never could power through, and so I’d always start on a new book, and a new book, and a new book. For a long time, I too felt like I was a failure, like I would never finish a novel of my own, but then I figured it out.
Simply, I stepped away from my novel for two weeks, telling myself that I’d come back to it when I was ready. Meanwhile, I started writing one of those shiny new ideas I had just to get it out on paper, and when I reached The Wall for the new book, I went back to the old one. I opened up the document, re-read it in its entirety, took a deep breath, and started writing. And you know what? As stupid as it sounds, it actually worked. I finished the book just a few months later, and I’d never felt better.
This is just bare-bones approach, of course, and there are so many more things you can do with it if you so choose. For example, when you get stuck, maybe it’ll help you to plot out the rest of the novel before you go further. Or maybe you’d rather skip ahead to a scene much later in the book and start from there, then fill in the rest later. Or maybe what works for you is to take your characters and write spontaneous short story that has nothing to do with the plot of your actual book, just to get the ideas flowing. There are a whole host of possibilities out there, and what works all depends on you, the individual writer.
But for everyone, regardless of their normal processes, my subjective advice is this: step away. Don’t scrap your book and don’t push it out of your mind completely, but do give yourself a breather. Writing a novel is hard work, and a break not only clears your head, but it lets your subconscious work on what to write next. So the next time you sit down to write? You’ll finish that goddamn thing.