Confession: I have started approximately 4.2 novels in the last few years. I've finished exactly zero of them. Zip.
It hurts to admit this, because I'm a finisher in every other aspect of my life. I finished college, I finished my teacher certification, I finish all my work projects, I finish checklists, to do lists, and reading books.
But I never finish writing books.
#1. I get overwhelmed, which leads to...
#2. I doubt my ability to finish, which leads back to #1...
It's a cycle.
I think it's because siting down to write a novel might be the most intimidating task in the whole world. Here, sit down in this chair and pour out lovely prose, well rounded characters, a logical yet thrilling and surprising plot line--oh and you need to keep this consistent over the course of 75,000 words.
Hmmm. I'm starting to see why the overwhelm creeps in.
Lately I've managed to burst through my inability to finish anything. And I can pinpoint the EXACT tricks I used to get myself from never-write-regularly and never-finish-my-novel to being the (wo)man with a plan who is killing her daily word count.
And here they are, three tricks to help you finish your novel:
Trick 1: Set very specific goals and deadlines.
I can't just sit down to "write a novel." No one can. No wonder I freeze up. Even setting a word count goal depresses me--today I will write 500 words out of 75,000. I feel like it will take me about ten years at that rate (which isn't true, but that's how it feels) and if it's going to take ten years, what's the big deal with skipping one day and taking ten years and one day?
Instead of setting word count goals or sitting down to work on your novel in a vague fashion that includes lots of wiggle room for doing lots of other things that aren't actually writing, try sitting down to do one specific task with one specific end goal.
For example, I made a checklist for what I want to get done to plan my novel using the Story Genius method. (You can access it in the Inkling Secret Library here.) Now my goal for this week includes finishing steps 1, 2, and 3 on my checklist and writing three backstory scenes.
See the difference that makes? I'm not focused on finishing my novel, I'm focused on finishing my checklist or one of three scenes. It makes it much easier to feel accomplished at the end of a writing session.
I also have a specific date I want to finish my novel by: September 30th. This helps more than just saying "this year" because as the days tick by, I'm watching September 30th get closer and closer. It is close enough to be excited at the thought of having a real first draft done, but still doable for me.
Trick 2: Make sure your work-in-progress takes up physical space in your life.
This is the easiest thing to do, but it had a huge impact on my writing practice. I write on my computer, so there isn't any very obvious tangible product associated with my writing. Progress is nothing more than numbers in a word count box, or an uptick in the pages in my document.
So I bought a cheap spiral notebook, found a trusty novel writing guide, and designated the back of the door to my closet as my novel planning board. Now I have my goals taped to the back of the door, my checklist is printed and tucked into my spiral notebook and when I sit to write, I can gather all of those physical items to ground me in what I'm actually doing--the door is filling up, the notebook is filling up, and my checklist is getting tick marks.
When I'm sitting in my office I have physical reminders of what I'm working on and it gets me itching to pick up a pen and the notebook and jot down a few ideas. It makes the intangible goal of writing a novel much more real--which means I actually want to work on it.
Trick 3: Gather some tools and PLAN before you write.
I know there are people who don't like planning and I hear you. I don't want to dismiss your creative methods. But try a little bit of planning. Why? Because even a little bit of planning will help stave off the overwhelm and will help you set more specific goals that are easy to measure and will allow you to experience steady progress.
Here are some ways you can plan:
1. Make an outline.
2. Use the Story Genius Method.
3. Make a checklist of what you want to get done for your novel (i.e. brainstorm for character, write plot outline, finish opening scene, etc...).
A note for the staunch anti-plotter:
I want to set forth the idea (and then run away very fast) that your "first draft" is actually your planning/plotting/brainstorm draft. So when you finish your first draft, you actually still need to write your first real draft...Now I know some of what you write will show up in some form in the finished draft. But lots will get chucked. And lots will suddenly need lots of rewriting given all the things you will sort out as you are writing, making much of what you write on page ten completely useless by the time you get to page 141. There is nothing wrong with this method. It just adds an extra draft to the process. If that makes you sad, consider looking into a novel planning method. I've found it quite helpful.
Signed Most Sincerely,
A Recovering Panster
What tricks do you use to help you finish a project? Let me know in the comments!