What I Learned from the Greats - How to Finish a Novel
Since finishing my novel, the number one question other writers ask me is something like, “How did you make time?” “How can I finish?” The answer is the same thing everyone else tells you, make time every day even if it’s only five minutes. Put one word in front of the other and eventually you’ll get a novel worth. That’s the most important thing but there is a bit more to it.
After I finally confessed my desire to write my fiancé enabled me to write full time for six months. In that time I researched writing nonstop. I watched author and publisher interviews. I read ‘How to Write’ books. I read biographies. I studied the daily habits of the greatest and most productive writers and there I found some commonalities. There were certain things that all the greatest and most productive writers seemed to have in common.
Each writer had a routine they would follow before they sat down to write. This routine could be short, just making a hot beverage. The routine could also be long and take all morning. Everything from when they woke up until they stopped typing at two in the afternoon would be decided. It seemed routine was key.
It is the same reason a routine before bed is suggested. If your brain recognizes that a certain series of events will always proceed a certain activity that activity will happen easier. If you always brush your teeth, journal, and read ten pages before you go to sleep, your brain will fall asleep quicker. A similar thing happened when I adopted a routine. I woke up, worked out, had breakfast, made myself a second cup of coffee and sat at my desk. My brain recognized that the proper series of events had happened. With time I was most creative when I sat down at my desk with my second cup of coffee. I had trained my brain when to be creative and productive. After six weeks I averaged just shy of two thousand words a day. I finished the first draft of my novel in four months.
A Repeatable Writing Environment
J.K. Rowling is known for her love of writing in cafes and Stephan King is known for locking himself in his office until he has reached his word count for the day. Almost every author talks about changing things up from time to time. J.K. Rowling locked herself in a grand hotel to finish Deathly Hallows and Stephan King will sometimes write by hand at whatever desk the hotel he’s staying at can provide. What’s the similarity?
For Rowling she was still in a place with a view where she could get a hot beverage on a whim. Stephan Kink was still in a place that was separate from the rest of the world. He still had privacy.
Each writer has certain things about their writing environment that they just need. What writing utensils do you prefer? What noise level is optimal? Do you prefer writing seated or laying down? Once you’ve identified what you need to write you’ll be able to transfer those things from place to place so you can write wherever you are.
I require a keyboard, a small amount of noise and prefer a beverage. Now that I know this, I know what I need to write at a café, the airport, in my parent’s living room, or out in the park. I never again have the excuse of “I just can’t write.”
The Ability to Concentrate
Unfortunately, this is something there is no shortcuts for. Most of us struggle with our powers of concentration and most of us are a bit impatient about it. With time you will learn what allows you to concentrate the most. You can pull inspiration from what helped you study in school.
For some they need complete silence. For others writing to music is best. Some require a small amount of noise they can easily ignore. Many require a shut door so that unexpected distractions do not happen but others require nearby human activity. It is all highly subjective but, with time, you will learn what works best for you.
A piece of advice I came across was that writers should make an appointment with their work every day. You should arrive prepared and never late. I took this seriously. I awoke at seven and arrived at my desk at nine thirty. Once you’ve arrived at your appointment with yourself you might as well write and after you’ve established the routine the words come. After a time, the words will come so much so that once you sit down you won’t want to leave until you’ve reached your goal for the day.
Not every writer discusses having goals but, for the writers that seemed to be more productive, a goal was common. The goals were often set daily but sometimes the goals were weekly. Stephan King is known for his daily goal of two thousand words. A daily goal of five hundred words is common.
I set my goal at two thousand words a day. I was writing full time so I figured I had no excuse. I didn’t always hit my goal (occasionally only squeezing out five hundred) but a few days I greatly surpassed my goal. My most productive day to date I typed over six thousand words in less than twenty-four hours. Having a goal gives you motivation to work through the midday slump. You want to feel the accomplishment of hitting that count so you muster up the ability to sit for just a little longer.
A common practice among productive people is some form of physical exercise. For some, like Stephan King, a daily walk will suffice. For others, like Steve Jobs, a short twenty-minute workout each morning is all they need. There is research to support this. Exercise increases blood flow. Increased blood flow allows for a healthier brain. A creative brain is most creative when healthy.
I have a background in professional fitness. Each morning I would wake up and work out for twenty minutes to an hour. I also included exercises to strengthen my hands, wrists, and forearms. I also included stretching to prevent carpal tunnel. I suggest looking into such things, your wrists will thank you.
Adopting one of these habits each week until you have adopted them all will greatly increase your productivity and your chances of success as a writer. Writing a novel takes work, it takes commitment, and it takes time. Writing isn’t just about adopting productive behaviors, it is about seeing the world in a new way, pointing out beauty, exposing cruelty, and showing the world hope. Less than 1% of people that say they want to write a novel ever release one, let alone finish one. Hopefully, these tips will help you achieve a type of immortality that can only come from the written word.
Now… get writing.