If You are Struggling to Write ....

Tips to Get Started AND Finish that Novel

What to do when writer’s block does strike:

Peter Cook once said “I met a man at a party and he said, 'I’m writing a novel.' I said, 'Really? Neither am I.'”

Writing a novel sounds so easy. You come up with a brilliant idea. You think through scenarios and prepare words in your head, but never get to the point of actually writing them down. Or you write them down, but never go far enough, you never finish.   

If writing a novel was easy, we would all be famous writers - or at least published ones.  As a writer in progress, we are sure you have read about how to write, what to write, how to develop your characters, you may even have taken a course or two.  You may actually have completed a novel or short stories or poems, but always have that one story in your head that you want to get started on.

For example: Terry keeps notebooks everywhere and for the last five years has been developing, over and over, two potential stories; one for teenagers and one for adults. But she doesn’t seem to get anywhere. She has written quite a lot in the past and doesn’t think she has writer’s block, but she wants to get started again on these two stories.  

Most writers will experience the same thing. So how do we get started or restarted on the novel we have burning in our mind? Here are some ideas:

Set time aside for your writing.

Don’t decide to do something once a week or once a month, you will never do it. Don’t think I’m going to write every Saturday afternoon, it just won’t happen. Instead, try and make it a daily habit.  People I have worked with would get up at 5am and write until 7am every day. It was the only time they had peace and quiet. You might not be an early riser, but think about your day. Is there a time you could write every day, even it is only half an hour? What about when you are on the train or the bus going to work? What about in your lunch hour? When your children are in bed late at night or early in the morning? Find a time that suits YOU and you can do it regularly.  

You are probably thinking that’s easy to do. BUT will you actually do it? Set yourself a short space of time that you are going to write each day. What about ten minutes? Do you think you can write for ten minutes a day? If you can’t, then do you really want to write that novel? Decide on how long. Try to start with only a short amount of time e.g. ten or fifteen minutes. If you find you can stick to that, then increase it. But at the start, make it short and sweet. Like any habit, it takes time for it to become a habit, so get started – today! Not tomorrow! Decide what you are going to do and when, and get started.

Keep a notebook

Keep a notebook, or two or three or four. Keep notebooks with you at all time. I don’t mean carry them around all the time, but keep them where you go; in your handbag, at your bedside, in your living room, and in the kitchen. Whenever inspiration strikes, have some paper and a pen on hand. A student I knew would write notes anywhere and everywhere. She felt that when inspiration struck, she would have a chance to write it down. She wrote notes on the inside of chocolate wrappers, on her hand, on used envelopes, anything she could get her hand on. She then put all the pieces of paper in a folder, ready for when she could sit down and write them out properly.

Don’t just think typewriter and computer. You might think you need to be sitting at a computer to write. You don’t.  You can make hand written notes anywhere.  Keep your notes and when you are able, type them up. Or you can pay someone else to type them up. Just don’t forget to type them up or you can end up with lots of notes and no novel.

Don’t try and be perfect.

Don’t be an Oscar Wilde: “I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again.”

No one is perfect. If you wait until your work is perfect, you will never finish it. Do the best you can. Write it, edit it, edit it again, change it, but don’t aim for perfection.

Send it off to publishers, self-publish, ask friends what they think, but finish it. If a publisher comes back and says no, or a friend says it isn’t good because…. you know where you are going right and where you are going wrong.  Sometimes we are too close to our work to see how good or bad it is, and so getting advice from others can really help.

If you are stuck for ideas, look around you. Look at the natural world - the sky, the sun, the trees, the grass, and so on. Look at paintings and photographs. Go to a local café and sit and listen to what other people are saying. Watch TV, films and plays. Sometimes a simple sentence that you hear from someone else can send you off into your imagination and start with a story.  

Think about 'what if?' When discussing Salem's Lot, Stephen King said “The most interesting situations can usually be expressed as a ‘what if’ question: what if vampires invaded a small New England village?"

Think about your ‘what if?’ If you want think about more than one for the same story, then do so. What if the world was overrun by zombies (too many to mention), what if I was suddenly alone in the world? What if the girl I love was getting married to someone else? What if I found out my husband was a serial killer? What if I was a policewoman hunting a killer? What if I find myself on a plane when a virulent disease breaks out? What if I could travel in time in a big blue box? What if……… There are so many stories and so many ideas, only you can think of your ‘what if?’, but think about them carefully.

Follow these steps and you will be writing your novel, your novella, your short story, your articles, your poems. You will be becoming a writer rather than someone who wants to write. Instead of saying, I want to be a writer, say I AM a writer.

Other tips to remove writer’s block:

  • Take a course
  • Join a creative writing group
  • Enter competitions
  • Join an online forum/website for writers if not able to attend a class
  • Talk to other writers about their work

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