FINISH THAT NOVEL—Tips to Help You Go the Distance

Inspired author biting crumpled paper

Today, Alex Limberg is with us again, and he is talking about one of the most important and tricky issues in writing: Endurance. It doesn’t matter how well we write, how pretty the prose or witty the dialogue. WE MUST FINISH.

No half-finished brilliant manuscript ever became a runaway best-seller but a lot of finished “meh” ones have.

Alex has some very effective tactics and practical examples to help you out.

Just look at his list and pick out the ones that work for you. And if you want to see how good your story really is or what it might be missing, definitely check out his free checklist of “44 Key Questions” to make your story awesome. Post starts in 3… 2… 1… 0:


Have you ever written an entire novel? If so, then you know that it takes a lot of stamina.

I’m not just talking about the really long ones, the brick-like ones you could kill a chicken with. Sometimes it seems like a mystery how Ayn Rand could write something like Atlas Shrugged or how Tolkien could ever complete Lord of the Rings.

I mean, did they never have to do the laundry or cut their toe nails, did life never get in the way?

Did they never get utterly frustrated by the sheer amount of pages they had to write – and by the fact they had to write them well?

I’m sure all of this did happen, but here is the important part: They didn’t let it stop them. They never ever quit. And neither should you.

Luckily, there are a couple of excellent tactics to help you if you are stuck. Here is what you can do if your writing project takes ages to come together and is starting to wear you down:

1. Maybe your story needs change

If something is fundamentally wrong with your story, no psychological recharging will help you; you would just end up frustrated anyways. Instead, your first step is to check if some elements of your novel want to be shuffled around.

Maybe there is one character too many or too few, or one of the figures is making decisions that don’t correspond to her personality.

Maybe the plot needs to be tightened or it needs more logic.

Maybe the point of view is off.

Take notes, think about it, and if you get the impression that there is something wrong with your story, try a different route.

To help you examine any wrong turns your story might have taken, you can download my free goodie about “44 Key Questions” to check your story. Use it to test your story for anything that could possibly go wrong.

2. Take a break

This one seems obvious, but you might not even see it if you are totally caught up in your novel: Leave your project alone for a couple of days or weeks and do things you normally wouldn’t do.

Take a hike, play the piano, do a bartending course; carve a sculpture, visit an origami exhibition, search for Bigfoot. After having your mind circle around your story all the time, any physical activity or mental change will feel refreshing.

Your body and mind will reenergize and open up to new ways of feeling and thinking.


3. Don’t expect too much

When we want something really bad, we often put way too much pressure on ourselves. Then it can happen that we freeze in front of the task like a mouse in the face of a snake.

So take yourself aside for a word of clear, constructive self-talk: Reassure yourself it will be okay. No word you put on screen or paper is final. Nobody will ever see a single letter before you decide to release it into the world.

Finally, even the best writers sometimes produce garbage. Seriously, it’s all good. It’s just a learning process, like everything else in life.

But what do I hear from you? That it’s easier said than done?

True, so here is a practical exercise: Write one page of fiction, and on purpose make it as bad as you possibly can. Is it really cringeworthy? Great, you have succeeded. Hopefully you will be less outcome-dependent now.

4. Put yourself in a creative state of mind

What exactly is a “creative state of mind”?

Your creative self is celebrating its most reckless party when you feel both relaxed and playful at the same time. Again, when you get stuck with your novel, chances are you are worrying too much about getting it right.

Start by taking the pressure off yourself like outlined above. Then go play with your kids and their building blocks to bring out your playful side. If you don’t have kids, play a round of poker, tic-tac-toe or Dungeons & Dragons. Start a pillow fight. The more silly, childish and senseless you can get, the better… it will open up your carefree, curious side again. Creative people can learn a lot from how children treat the world.

Finally, start playing around with the elements of your story, just for the sake of it. Try absurd scenarios. How would that confession scene play out at a circus amongst clowns and dancing bears?

Don’t expect any results, but maybe fooling around will spark your passion for your story again. You might even come across new ideas about how to move it further along.


5. Reward yourself

It’s also important to nurture your creative motor. Assign yourself little rewards in advance for reaching your writing goals.

Pick something you are really looking forward to. It might be a night at the movies for a chapter you finish, or a new iPad for finishing half of your novel.

6. Visualize your success

If you undergo the long, winding process of writing a book, chances are you feel a deep desire within yourself to see the finished result.

So use your desire and visualize that very satisfying outcome: What would it feel like to look at your finished novel, to know that you finally made it happen? How awesome would it be to read the best chapter aloud to your friends, how exciting to send it out to a couple of agents and publishers and see what happens?

Visualize these scenes of sweet victory. They will give you that extra boost you need to get your project done. And if you need a practical exercise, write a letter to yourself and describe what success will look like.

Also, what fascinated you so much about your story you had to start to write it in the first place? Was it a character, an idea, a scene? Remind yourself of what you found fascinating when you started your long and winding novel. Imagine that character or idea vividly before your mind’s eye.

These are a couple of tactics and tricks I found useful for my own writing. See which one of them works best for you. After all, everything you see here is just words on a screen; apply them, live them, finally stick with what really helps you and disregard the rest.

Soon enough your creative juices will be flowing again, and when you have finished your story, you will look at it and be immensely proud of yourself: You have gotten up, overcome all the obstacles and finally achieved your goal – congratulations, this is what makes you a real writer!

AL, Photo 3

Alex Limberg is blogging on ‘Ride the Pen’ to help you boost your fiction writing. His blog dissects famous authors (works, not bodies). Download his free checklist of “44 Key Questions” to quickly detect any problems in your story and keep yourself motivated. Alex has worked as a copywriter and lived in Vienna, Los Angeles, Madrid and Hamburg.

So far, so good. Now we just need to do it.

Kristen here again. I have a couple of questions for you: Which techniques work best when you feel fatigue? What do we need to add to the list? Is it hard to be creative when everyday life is upon you? Does wearing a banana peel for a hat make you more creative? Could this fashion statement also be your reward for a finished novel?

Remember that comments for guests get double love from me for my contest!

I love hearing from you!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of DECEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

November’s winner of my 20 page critique is Nancy Segovia. THANK YOU for being such an awesome supporter of this blog and its guests. Please send your 5000 word Word document (double-spaced, Times New Roman Font 12 point) to kristen@wana intl dot com.

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  1. Reblogged this on authorkdrose.

  2. Reblogged this on Writing and Musing and commented:
    Good advice! Keep writing and don’t give up on your novel!

  3. #2 Take a Break rings true for me. It was a recommended part of the process in screen-writing. The old Hollywood expression was called “Mulling and Stewing.” After a draft is written, put it down, and then the author begins to internalize the story and comes up with new insights.

    1. Yeah that is why I haven’t been blogging as much as normal. This is a good time of year to kind of rest the muse.

    • Chris Saper on December 13, 2016 at 1:05 pm
    • Reply

    Thanks for the link! I would like to suggest an excellent book for writers – although written by photographers, and widely read by visual artists, it’s relevant for everyone engaged in creative activity: Art & Fear, authors David Bayles and Ted Orland.

    • lanettekauten2016 on December 13, 2016 at 1:10 pm
    • Reply

    It seems like such a strange tip which certainly won’t work for everyone, but when my creative flow becomes sclerotic, I grab a published book and start copying it. Obviously, I don’t copy a single word onto a rough draft of my own work; instead I create a separate file. What this does is… honestly, I’m not exactly sure what it does. Maybe it gets me into the rhythm of writing, maybe the flow of well-written sentences unlocks something in my brain, or maybe the process generates ideas, or maybe I get frustrated with writing someone else’s work, which motivates me to create my own. I think it’s all four, but most importantly I know the process, though tedious, works.

    1. That’s a great idea!

    2. I love this! Will try it out next time. 🙂

      • Alex on December 15, 2016 at 1:18 am
      • Reply

      Yes, great comment, and I like how you dissect the idea for reasons it’s working – so true!

  4. This is all great stuff! Thanks for posting!! When I’m in a bit of a creative rut like you’ve described, I pick up a novel that I’m excited about reading, not one I think I SHOULD read. Somehow, reading for pleasure motivates me to get back to working on manuscripts.

  5. I like the idea of purposefully writing a page of absolute dreck. As one who tries too hard to get the pieces generally in the right place the first time, I think it would be very freeing!

  6. Of course, a lot of these are irrelevant if you’re a real pantser… For us, writing fiction is like reading fiction… we have to keep going to find out what’s going to happen next.

    When it does happen, we often have to go back in the plot to set the seeds for what’s just happened; to make those little changes to suit the direction the story’s taking us, or to slot in that new character so they haven’t ‘just appeared’ out of nowhere… We might even have to change some times and dates so the story still makes sense, or is believable.

    This can even mean going back to a previous, but not yet published, book in the series. I had to change an old woman’s age in one book, so that she was old enough to have served in World War Two. This was required for her to have had certain training and experience that she used in the sequel, set three years later. Both books have since been published, so no more changes can be made to either of those.

    Writing like this means you never get bored because when you’re not engrossed in the story, you’re spending your time Googling, checking books, or making phone calls, researching those little details needed for credibility. If your character is driving a 1950 MG TD, you don’t want him to be turning a key to start it (there’s a ‘pull’ knob starter switch on the dash). If he’s relying on a Glock 19 to fight his way out of trouble, you need to know how many rounds the magazine holds… and when he’s arrested in a certain part of town, a call to the local police to check on which police station he’d be taken to comes in useful. It’s no good locking him in a police cell that doesn’t exist, ’cos some smartarse reader will pick you up on it.

      • Alex on December 15, 2016 at 1:27 am
      • Reply

      Very interesting comment, Chris. I can’t see how a lot of these are irrelevant for pantsers, but then again I’m certainly not a pantser, and their world has always remained a somehow mysterious one for me. Thanks!

  7. George R.R. Martin needs to read this. I mean, sheesh, how long is he going to keep us waiting?

  8. Great tips.
    As to #4, I have met several professional authors who do something that involves muscle memory and the creative side of their brain (like playing an instrument or sketching a picture) as a precursor to writing every time they do it. They swear it puts them in the write frame of mind (intentional usage of write rather than right here).
    We need to find our own “get in the writing zone” process, which means experimenting with different suggestions until something clicks with our muse.

      • Alex on December 15, 2016 at 1:31 am
      • Reply

      Yes, yes, yes, experiment! If playing on cheese like on a piano for half an hour helps, then do it. Everybody has to find their own solutions, and please don’t shy back from something just because it sounds unusual or slightly weird.

  9. Reblogged this on Rucker | Writer.

  10. Write scenes, not big book. It makes it a lot less scary.

      • Alex on December 15, 2016 at 1:31 am
      • Reply

      I like it.

  11. Reblogged this on Erotic Vampire and commented:
    Each of these rang true for me, especially number 5. Are you rewarding yourself for each accomplishment? Sometimes writers are so critical of themselves and their work, we forget to celebrate the accomplishments. Thanks again Kristen for sharing these words of wisdom.

  12. I can honestly say that if I’ve ever struggled to finish a novel, the book sucked so bad I couldn’t save it.

    I have written three books and had a lot of “starts” since coming back to the craft. I think these starts will become novels later, but they weren’t right for the characters in them.

    Go ahead, think I’m crazy on this, but I’m pretty sure it’s true.

    After putting writing aside for ten years, I tackled a really tough character as my first “back into the fray” attempt. I finished 3/4 of the story before setting it aside. It needs a new hero, and when I am ready to tackle it again, I’ll give the story the hero it deserves and finish it.

    I started a different book, and came back to the hard character later. That time it took me eight weeks to write the first draft. It was right, and i could tell.

    I have learned I have to strike while the fire a creativity is hot. Get the first draft down on paper as fast as I can. I can edit it later into something that doesn’t resemble brain vomit later.

  13. Techniques that work well for me include breaking the mammoth task down into small, near-term goals, and setting myself a manageable word count goal and charting progress each day. That helps keep me moving while I’ve got a bit of momentum but can act as a downer if I get really stuck.

    If I get mired down in one section, I like to leap ahead to a scene that interests me later on and write that. That gets kinda interesting when I haven’t yet fully worked out how to get from where I was to the scene I’m writing but it usually works out in the end. It helps that I work and think in a non-linear fashion, part planner, part pantser 🙂

  14. Great advice, thank you. I have been thinking of putting my in the trash but maybe I will relook at it.

    1. Never consign any of your writing to the trash, Robbie. File it. Someday parts of it may prove useful in other books – with suitable changes.

      I write crime novels. In the first book I submitted, there were bedroom scenes that my publisher thought might present problems. It wasn’t that they were particularly graphic, but the girl was only fifteen while the man was a lot older. It was thought that Amazon might baulk at them – especially as they were close enough to the beginning to appear in the ‘look inside’ sample (Amazon don’t mind sex scenes, as long as it’s between ‘grown ups’ – though they’ll still sell Nabakov’s ‘Lolita’.).

      The age difference was important to the plot, so those scenes were edited to leave things merely suggested, but the writing was saved. Later those scenes, with name, hair colour, and other minor changes, were used in a subsequent novel – with older participants.
      The earlier novel actually worked better with more left to the reader’s imagination. It heightened the sense of jeopardy, as the reader wondered how far the girl took the man, who knew nothing of the girl’s underage status – would he be caught out? It became an underlying theme in the book.

      There have been other instances where pieces I’ve edited out of novels have been used in later books. Anything that’s written well is worth saving… If it isn’t written well, then make sure it is before filing it.

  15. Reblogged this on Don Massenzio's Blog.

  16. Great advice! My biggest fear is wondering if an unpublished short story I wrote is strong enough to expand into a novel.

  17. Reblogged this on Random Musings.

    • jfredlee on December 14, 2016 at 3:27 pm
    • Reply

    Don’t let anyone kid you — writing a novel is a freakin’ marathon. I’ve written five of them and in EVERY one, I hit long stretches where I was sure I’d die of old age before I finished. All you can do is put one foot in front of the other one and keep trudging. Do whatever it takes to keep on keepin’ on. Eventually, you get there. Then, you look back on the experience and somehow, it all looks a lot better (and easier) from the finish line.

    1. Yup.

  18. I motivated myself for this year’s NaNo with the reward of a Lindor whenever I wrote 2000 words in a day. Only a little thing but it worked!

  19. Reblogged this on Siefken Publications.

  20. Knitting. I did a sort-of-NaNo this year (rewriting) and it made such a huge difference, having something constructive to do with my hands while my mind played about with the next scene. You can’t knit anything too elaborate, but you end up with something useful at the end (as well as, hopefully, a novel).
    I am planning to have the rewrite finished by the end of the month (was going to be Christmas but I got sick) and the polish-through finished by the end of January. And then it’s out to the beta-readers, and I can finally do something else with my mind!

  21. Reblogged this on Art Hut.

  22. Ugh. This is where I am. Thought I would be done a year ago. I had been very disciplined, then I hired an editor. While the book was with her, I lost the discipline and am still struggling to put the writing time back in my life, and I have a lot of tedious work to do to prepare for another edit!

  23. Reblogged this on Writer's Treasure Chest and commented:
    Author Kristen Lamb gives us tips on how to finish our novel. Thank you Kristen!

  24. I’ve been told I’m a great writer, but I can never finish anything longer than a short story. This is wonderful advice and I definitely will be taking it!

  25. Reblogged this on Dark Awakening.

  26. Reblogged this on Great article – very inspiring. My first novel, Dark Awakening took 10 years for me to finish! Wish I had stumbled on these tips earlier!

  27. Reblogged this on Kat's Writing Runway and commented:
    Taking a break from writing helps with fatigue and gets me back on track and rejuvenated. I work out: swim 50 laps, a walk and Bellyfit. One thing that helps me finish a difficult chapater is to fill the house with music. I love the La Femme Nikita soundtrack. What does everyone else do to keep going (writing that tough chapter or refreshing the creative juices)?

  28. finally catching up on my blog reading! Loved this post -Thanks!!

  1. […] via FINISH THAT NOVEL—Tips to Help You Go the Distance — Kristen Lamb’s Blog […]

  2. […] Continue reading @ Kristen Lamb’s Blog » […]

  3. […] Alex Limberg guest posts on Kristen Lamb’s blog. Finish that novel: tips to help you go the distance. […]

  4. […] There are a whole raft of writing elements writers need to master. Christina Delay shows how to make setting come to life with sensory details, Jami Gold talks about the revision circle, Kristina Riggle tells how to make “write what you know” work for you, and Alex Limberg has tips to help you finish that novel. […]

  5. […] FINISH THAT NOVEL—Tips to Help You Go the Distance […]

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