Writing your draft: how to finish a novel

One of the hardest things about finishing a novel – before you think about ideas, characters, or plotting – is finding time and confidence with all those words to write.

Maybe writing a novel seems like a mammoth task, a distant dream.

Read on for tips in writing productivity, how to get organised with your writing, and how to finish a novel.

A massive spoiler: you can do it.

How to schedule your writing time (by the hour)

Tick, tock.

How can you be sure to finish a book you start?

Lots of writers prefer spontaneity to planning out writing times. If vagueness hasn’t been helping, though, setting goals could help make a novel seem less imposing.

Goals may adapt as you go on, too (perhaps by the day, if you’ve written something one day that negates what you were planning to do the next day, and so on). This shouldn’t be an inflexible process.

Just decide on your writing days per week, how much time you know you’ll roughly have to dedicate to writing on each day.

Some days, you may have an hour or two. On others, you know you may just have twenty minutes. Twenty minutes can still count.

If you want your novel written, you’ll need determination – and Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope even paid someone to get him up, so he could write in the few hours before he went to work. Even if your designated writing times aren’t every day, they should still be fixed (as much as you can make them).

Show up for your writing, keep it habitual.

If you’ve been struggling to make time for writing on a more fluid basis, see if actively planning your writing like this makes a difference.

How to set your writing goals (and achieve them)

Let’s explore this idea of hours more, how you’ll make the time productive, once you’ve scheduled it into your day.

Perhaps you’ll allot in your diary (or mobile calendar) an hour of each weekday to writing your novel. List its ideal outcome. Does Chapter 1 need starting? If you’re further on than that, does a scene need revising? Does a ‘filler’ or ‘bridge’ section need getting down on paper, before you go back and figure out how to make it better later?

Maybe there’s a weeknight you know you’ll have limited time, so take out just twenty minutes for research, editing or mind-mapping ideas for a scene. Maybe there’s a weekend you know you’ll have lots more time, so set yourself a bigger task.

Try giving one ideal outcome to each time you write, to help turn your novel into a manageable project (so if you do more than that, wonderful).

Few people can find long stints of time to write as they’d like. The only agreed solution (between the ‘planners’ and the ‘pantsters’) is to carve writing hours into a schedule, then stick to them, making them useful.

You can always break up your writing time with something called the Pomodoro technique, too – 25 minutes of work, then 5 minutes to break – rewarding yourself as you go.

Bring your close family and friends along, too. Your desire to write is a part of you, so having support and understanding from others will help.

How to protect your writing space (and headspace)

Neil Gaiman’s writing space.

Whilst it’s possible to write anywhere, your headspace and surrounding environment can help you keep up a writing discipline.

Surround yourself with writerly comforts. Some need black coffee, others need green tea. Some need quiet, others need jazzy playlists. Some need cushions, others need a wrist support. Some need scattered notes, others need filing systems.

Make your writing spot a place you’ll literally love coming to.

If it’s just not possible to create a makeshift writing space at home, settle yourself where you’ll feel comfortable, even if it’s just in bed with a laptop. (And why not?)

Respecting your physical space, the bustle of a café could be less taxing than the bustle of home in terms of productivity. If you need to remove yourself from home distractions for a bit, why not take yourself to a coffee or lunch? Treat yourself to whatever feeds your writer’s brain. Perhaps during a lunch break at work, you’ll be able to take yourself and your laptop to a café somewhere.

Also, any space (and anyone’s headspace) nowadays is easy to infiltrate with wi-fi. Protect focus by turning off the wi-fi. (You can always ‘reward’ yourself with the Internet later.)

Keep things fun, just keep yourself to task, too.

How to keep going and finish your novel

First, start now.

There’s never going to be a time when you’re readier to write than the present. Start writing, then keep it habitual, even between projects. Carry a notebook and pen with you. Try jotting ideas on the go.

Second, release some pressure.

Allow yourself to be carried along, to enjoy and let loose. Allow your first draft to be imperfect because otherwise it can’t get written. You’ll have time to edit once it’s out on a page, but you can’t edit from nothing (editing, by-the-by, we can help with once you’re ready).

Third, you can do it.

If you’ve set yourself a word count of 10,000 words every month (as an example, aiming for between 2,000-3,000 words per weekend), you could have a first working draft in less than a year before all your structural editing and revisions go in.

Fourth, remind yourself how much you want this.

If you want to be published, you’ll need to be resilient, as well as kind to yourself. Getting a first draft out is hard, and a first draft is allowed to be flawed before you go back and edit.

If do you want to write, there’s really nothing more important than finding the time to complete your first draft – and, when you’re ready, our self-editing or assessment options may help, too, along with reams of free advice to explore if ever you’re feeling stuck.

Happy writing!

About WW Office

The Writers' Workshop is the world's leading consultancy for first time writers.
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