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!
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?
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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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