Notice I said how to finish writing your novel faster, not fast. This is not a lesson on how to write a book in a month. For that, head over to NaNoWriMo or read Book in a Month: The Fool-Proof System for Writing a Novel in 30 Days by Victoria Lynn Schmidt.
This post is for you if you keep writing and rewriting the first chapter of your novel without moving forward, or if you’re stuck halfway through your draft, confused or unmotivated. This post is for you if you can’t quite wrap your head around how to write something as long as a novel in the first place.
Currently, I’m trying to finish a second revision of a YA novel I wrote a year and a half ago. I tend to write first drafts quickly — in a few months — but then it takes me years to revise them. Personally, I’m working on spending more time in the prewriting stage so my first drafts come out needing less revision. But certainly the first big battle we must face is finishing that first draft.
So without further ado, here are my 10 tips for how to finish writing your novel faster:
#1 Remember: the first draft is the vomit draft.
Your first draft does not need to be perfect. In fact, it may be sort of terrible. “The first draft of anything is shit,” said Ernest Hemingway. It’s okay because you will revise and it will get better. It’s okay because at least you finished. A large fraction of people who start writing a novel never finish. And you can’t revise something that doesn’t exist. So just write and worry about making it better later.
Need more quotes to get you through the upchucking of your first draft? Here are 103 of them.
#2 Write as if you’ve already made changes.
Halfway through your novel, you realize that your protagonist should have a brother. Or that a clue should be dropped in Chapter 2. Instead of going back to the beginning and rereading/rewriting (which may take you down a deep rabbit hole and keep you from pushing forward), just keep going as if you’ve already made the change. Then, when you’ve typed “the end,” you can go back and change or add whatever you need.
#3 Take a class or write with a friend.
Novels are long, and it can feel quite overwhelming and lonely to write one. Make a writing date with a friend or take a novel-writing class. Writing with other people or working with a writing coach can be a great way to hold yourself accountable, learn best practices, and keep pushing towards the finish line.
If you’re looking for a step-by-step online course to lead you through the process of writing a novel, my writer-friend Daniel David Wallace is currently offering a FREE online novel-writing seminar.
#4 Leave blanks for names, minor research, etc.
How many times has the need for a new character popped up in your novel-writing, and you spend the next hour reading baby name blogs or using random name generators instead of writing?
That sort of thing can be done late at night when you’re too tired to do any real writing. Same thing with names of streets or restaurants. Same thing with what your character is wearing or the cocktail she’s drinking.
Instead, leave a blank or put in a placeholder name. You can change it later. Ditto with minor research. Move on and come back to that later.
#5 Write the dialogue first.
This always works well for me, probably because my books are dialogue-heavy to begin with. Try writing an entire scene with just the dialogue, like you’re writing a play. Later you can add the “stage directions” – the setting and scenery, what the characters are doing and thinking, etc. Writing the dialogue only can be a really good way to quickly draft an important scene and move on to the next one.
#6 Write the most important scenes first.
Sit down and list all of the most important scenes in your novel. This will probably include:
- introductions of important characters and/or situations
- the inciting incident
- moments of decision or change
- plot twists or turning points
- moments of revelation
- moments of intense emotion or action
- the climax
- the resolution
I’d recommend listing between 10 and 15 scenes (and no more than 20!) Write those scenes first. Later you can go back and tie them all together with summary and/or smaller scenes.
#7 Skip ahead to the climax.
Write the big, climactic scene that happens near the end. Once you know where you’re going, you may be more motivated or prepared to write the rest of the story.
#8 Write the parts you’re most excited to write
Sometimes writing can feel like drudgery. So skip around and indulge in the parts you’re excited about writing. No one ever said you have to write in order. Maybe, once those sections have been written, you’ll have more gumption for the parts that feel like work.
#9 Tell yourself the story first.
Author Terry Pratchett says, “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” You might include chapters of backstory or description or world-building that you won’t include in the final draft. You may realize that the story doesn’t really start until page 50. You may realize the story will be best told non-linearly, or in a different voice. All of this is okay because in the first draft you’re still figuring out what the story is.
Thinking of the first draft as telling yourself the story may free you from some creative self-doubt. No one has to see this draft but you. Once you’ve finished, you’ll better understand the story as a whole, and you’ll know how best to tell it. Then you can begin a revision meant for the eyes of others.
#10 Make a goal for when you will finish writing your draft and announce it!
Decide on a realistic goal for when you will finish writing your novel draft. Make it something you can reasonably achieve, but also don’t give yourself so much time that you don’t feel motivated to get going. Then (and here’s the scary part) tell people. Tell your friends and family, announce it on social media. “I am going to finish a draft of my novel by the end of the summer,” for example.
Maybe the people you tell will check in to see if you’re making progress towards your goal. Or maybe not. But either way, it will be easier to hold yourself accountable if you say your goal out loud (or put it in writing) and thus make it feel real.
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Speaking of which, my goal is to finish the revision of my novel by June 15, 2018. See, I’ve made it real. Hold me accountable, people! And I’ll do the same for you. Are you trying to finish writing a novel? What’s your goal? Tell me in the comments below!
Are you finished writing your novel? Here’s what to do once you’ve typed “the end”: 7 Next Steps for When You Finish Your Manuscript
Trisha Traughber says
I really liked this post Eva. “Write as if you’ve already made changes” is great advice for me–even in short stories. I change something and then want to go back in time and fix everything…
Thanks! This is one of the hardest ones for me to follow myself. 🙂