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Tips to Avoid Getting Bogged Down in Writing a Novel

Updated on April 24, 2014

A Daunting Prospect

The average novel is 80,000 to 120,000 words long. Not only do you have to write all of those words, but somehow you've got to keep a handle on plot and characters along the way, preventing things from getting out of hand and trying to maintain some semblance of consistency. Many people set out to write a novel only to get discouraged or overwhelmed along the way and give up. In fact, before I wrote my first novel, I made many failed attempts. I have a plastic tub full of unfinished novels sitting in a nearby closet, but I learned many things as a result. Having now written and published eight novels (with a ninth on the way), I think I can offer some tips to help burgeoning authors.

Tip 1) Set Small Goals

If you try to wrap your head around just how long a novel is, the goal will seem unattainable. Don't think big picture. All you need to do is set small daily or weekly goals for yourself. These will depend largely on your own schedule, but set goals that are realistic. For example, my personal goal is 1,000 words a day. That's about three double-spaced pages. If that's too much for you, set a smaller goal, say 500 words. Maybe your goal needs to be one page a day. If you can just find the time to write one page of your novel a day, you will finish the whole thing in a year. Concentrate on those small daily or weekly goals, and don't worry about overall progress.

Tip 2) Don't Write Things You Don't Enjoy

This is your novel and nobody else's, so write the kind of story you enjoy reading. If you get to a place in the story that feels like a slog, a chapter that you are really struggling with and not having any fun, then rip that chapter out of the book and take it in another direction. If there is a section of your novel that is dragging, and you can't get through it, hack out the draggy part and quicken the pace. Make this into a story that you enjoy from cover to cover. This is important, because if you are enjoying the novel as it unfolds, you will have a much easier time writing it. In fact, you will look forward to your writing times. You are under no obligation to include any scene, exposition, dialogue or plot twist that you don't enjoy.

Tip 3) Keep a Tight Reign on Your Story

One of the biggest reasons people give up on writing their novel is that they let things get out of hand and find themselves at a place in the story where they are unsure how to proceed. They have painted themselves into a corner, or they have let the subplots and added characters bloat the whole thing until it becomes an unwieldy monster.

The way to avoid this is to always be thinking a chapter ahead. Keep a tight reign on your plot and characters, so you don't wind up creating a big mess for yourself. Identify potential problems early. Maybe there is a secondary character that you just shouldn't introduce. Maybe there is a subplot that needs to die an early death before it gives you headaches down the road. If a plot twist seems like it might take you in a wrong direction, stomp on it as soon as possible.

It can be discouraging to realize you have to go back a chapter or two and start over, so try to avoid it if you can. When you are not writing, think about your novel and work out the next chapter in your head. That way, when you sit down to write, you already have a sense of what needs to happen. Surprises along the way are fine. Sometimes in trying to maintain a sense of authentic personality, I let my characters make decisions I would rather they didn't make, but if it's going to allow the whole novel to spiral out of control, then the hammer of God must descend.

Keep your novel in check and don't let it get away from you. Avoid bloat. Identify problematic additions, twist and turns, characters and subplots early. But if you do wind up having to go back, don't get so discouraged that you give up. I've cut whole chapters out of my books before. It happens. Just keep your eyes on those small daily writing goals and keep on going.

It Gets Easier

The more novels you write, the more you will discover your own voice. As you do, the actual creating of prose becomes easier. In the beginning, you might struggle with sentence structure and making paragraphs flow, but the more you work at it, the more comfortable the process will become. Keep at it and eventually writing will become second nature to you.


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    • lambservant profile image

      Lori Colbo 3 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      I am one who paints herself into a corner so I appreciate your suggestions there. I appreciate this hub. Well cone.

    • goreesha profile image

      Jeffrey Aaron Miller 3 years ago from Rogers, AR

      I was also a Creative Writing major in college, and I experienced the same thing. My first year, I wrote all genre fiction, mostly sci-fi, and one of my professors actually said, "I think I like your work, but honestly I don't know how to critique genre stories." After my first year, and for the rest of my time in college, I stopped writing genre stories and gave the profs what they wanted--literary fiction.

      Though I resented it, ultimately it probably helped me. I could no longer trust in the genre conventions I was familiar with and had to concentrate more on characterization, prose, plot and dialogue. Of course, as soon as I graduated, I went right back to fantasy and science fiction, but I brought what I'd learned with me.

      When I have to write to pass a class, I can handle churning out stuff I don't enjoy. Heck, as a freelance writer, I churn out articles for clients I don't enjoy. But when I'm pursuing my own novel writing, there is no sense in not doing exactly what I want to do. If it's a book I would enjoy reading, if it resonates with me, then it's worth spending my time creating it.

      As for early fears, in the beginning I was just overwhelmed with big picture stuff. I didn't have a good sense of how to construct a story. There was no blueprint, so I would just sort of meander through events, letting them unfold haphazardly until I lost my way and gave up. I also struggled to make my writing flow. Every paragraph felt like a wrestling match with the English language.

      Constructive criticism from writing workshops, brutally honest friends, creative writing professors and fellow students, and even helpful editors (in their rejection letters) actually helped me hone my craft quite a bit. Growing up, parents and siblings always told me I was a great writer, so the first time I got blasted in a writing workshop was painful, but it was all stuff I needed to hear. Learning to receive criticism is one of the most important things a writer can do. But the best way to get better is just to keep writing and writing and reading and writing.

    • Availiasvision profile image

      Jennifer Arnett 3 years ago from California

      I like your tip on writing what you personally enjoy. When I was in the Creative Writing program in college, I felt like my professors looked down on the thriller genre, calling them cheap paperbacks. As I started studying the industry, I realized that those cheap stories were the ones making all of the money.

      I had one professor in particular who really pushed the literature writing agenda. It took me several years to rebel into what I felt in my heart i wanted to write. I am now writing the novel I feel like I've prepared my whole life for. It is my truest story in terms of what I want to tell.

      I'm 9000 words into it and I have this intense fear that I will not follow the "correct plot formula" that writers are supposed to follow. I'm afraid that critics will call a plot point "amateur."

      What fears did you have to get over when you first started writing? I'm glad that it gets easier with time. I have noticed that the more I write, the easier it gets.