Writing a novel is hard

Another National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is approaching, and I’ve learned a few things since I finished it (for the first time) last year.

Writing a novel is hard
Yes, it is. I don’t care what the people over at NaNoWriMo tells you, it’s not as simple as sitting at your keyboard and hammering out 50 000 words. I can do that in 2 weeks. Anyone can do it! The hard part is creating something worth yours, and your readers’, while. You want to write a good story, with strong, engaging characters, and that takes hard work and a lot of practice.

Write more, rather than less
Up until recently, I wrote short stories, 5000 words or less. I have written novels, but I followed the ‘short story’ formula, and while they were okayish, they weren’t good (lots of plot holes). Fast pace, very little description, no real development of characters – you know the drill. With a novel, you can’t do that. People want to really step inside your characters’ skin, get to know them, feel what they feel, see what they see. Readers want to experience the world you created, feel the caress of the soft evening sunshine on their skins, smell the roses … okay I suck at this, but you get the idea. You will have to cut a lot of this stuff later, but while drafting, throw it all on paper – it’s easier to cut unneeded narration during the editing phase, than it is to add details later.

You will, at times, hate every single word you write
Many a night, I wanted to cry at my own ineptitude. I always love my characters. Creating them and giving them a voice is what I’m good at, but I find narration, setting up beautiful captivating scenes, and transition very difficult at times. I’m sure everyone goes through it – the I suck at this feeling. There have been, and still are, times when I wanted to throw in the towel and start over. I wanted to kill the whole thing by setting my laptop on fire. Remind yourself, that it is probably not that bad. We all experience doubt. It’s normal. Keep writing, finish that novel.

Find a writing/critique buddy
This should be someone who will encourage you along the way, and who will read your work and give you feedback. Said buddy should be honest and should be able to give you good, constructive criticism. It’s best to find another writer, but an avid reader who is willing to give you insightful feedback will be immensely helpful too.

You need to sleep
I get so engaged in my own little world, that I find it hard to tear myself away from it and go to bed! The upside is that you get a lot of writing down, the downside is that it will all suck donkey balls. When you are tired, you can not fully engage with your characters, and 90% of what you write will be crap, so you will probably end up deleting most of it anyway (or you won’t, only to go over it during editing, and finding out it’s crap). Hard as it might be, switch off the computer and go to bed, there is something to be said for a good night’s sleep.

When it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work
Remember when I said you have to finish the novel? That is not always the case. There will come a time, when what you’re writing isn’t working. If you can write your way out if it, great! Keep going! But, when you write and write and write, running in circles, and you can not save the story, you may have to consider shelving it. This happens. All the time, and to all of us. There’s a reason seasoned authors have stacks of unfinished manuscripts. Sometimes a story that starts out great, just fizzles out.

Instead of chasing your tail, let it go … write something else, take a break, then come back to the novel. If you still can’t write your way out, it is time to admit that the novel has died. I promise you, this happens to everyone. You won’t want to give it up, because you have already put a whole lot of blood, sweat, tears and sleepless nights into your creation. Trying to force it won’t do the job, and you will come to the same conclusion every time – that it’s not working – not to mention the hours and hours of frustration. Instead of wasting your time – time that you can spend on something that has more potential and might work, give it up. There is always a chance that you can pick it back up later, something might come to you, but in the mean time, just let it go.

Yes, writing a novel is hard, sometimes soul-destroying and heartbreaking, but for a writer there’s no greater feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction than writing, The End.

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