Ask a Smart Guy: The Novelology Marathon

Hello, hello.  What’s this?  Two blog posts in one week?  Well, why the heck not?

It’s time for our infrequent and irregular Ask A Smart Guy segment.  Let’s start with this comment someone recently posted on the site.

I have been an aspiring writer for five++ years, and still cannot find a method that works for me. Every time I start a story a new story idea pops into my head. The new story idea will nag me to death, until I give the idea some attention. I have thousands of introductions to show for it.

It has gotten so bad, I can barely look at a blank page without a torrent of inner-turmoil welling up to the surface–I want to scream.

I think I may have ADD, or something. How do you keep focus?

Unsurprisingly, I hear this a lot.  One of the hardest things about writing a novel is finishing the damn thing.  Because novels are long and take a lot of work.

I wish I could give you a novelology secret that allows one to get over that, but it’s always hard.  Without exception, by the time I get to the end of any manuscript, I have grown to hate it.  I don’t care how awesome the characters are, how great the plot is, or how wonderful I think it is.  In the end, I can’t wait to throw it aside and be done with it.  So I understand the problem.  I still wrestle with it with every book.

So how do I get past it?

Practice.  Just as an athlete must train to develop his endurance, so must a writer develop his own endurance.  Did you write 25 pages of your last manuscript before giving up on it?  Write 50 pages on your next one.  And 100 pages on your next.  If you keep at it, you’ll discover it’s not so hard.

Another choice is to simply write shorter stories.  Once you finish a story, you’ll discover that finishing a story really is a satisfying experience.  Start with a short story or a novella.  Worry less about the length of your manuscript and more about getting it finished.  This might mean you’ll write many stories too long to be short stories and too short to be novels, but consider it practice.

Above all, remember that a single realized story is worth a hundred great unfinished novels.  Nobody is going to care if you never finish a single story, but that’s what makes writing a tough job.  Especially when you’re only an aspiring writer and only answerable to yourself.

So answer to yourself.  Stick with it.  If you find yourself growing bored with your current project, you aren’t alone.  I get frustrated and bored with everything I write too.  But I press on because that’s what you do.

Writing a novel isn’t a sprint.  It’s a marathon.  And you will hit the wall at some point.  The only difference between an aspiring writer and a professional novelologist is that the pro pushes on.

So push on.  I can’t make you do it, but I can promise you that you’ll be glad you did.

Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,


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  1. Posted February 23, 2010 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, seconding this. I think a lot of aspiring writers think books get finished in a whirlwind of inspiration, not realizing that it gets hard. It always gets hard. I sent one to my agent last week that I felt really good about, and it showed. But even that one had moments when I wanted to tear my hair out. In my 2nd and 3rd revisions I: changed from adult to young adult (and reduced my heroine in age by 14 years), ripped out 10,000 words, changed my bad guy entirely, and wrote the ending I didn’t write in the first draft (seriously, my ending was a bracketed sentence). And that was an *easy* book to write.

  2. Posted February 23, 2010 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the info! As an aspiring writer, I’m beginning to realize just how difficult it certainly is. I’m still struggling to write a novel, and already two of my friends have completed first drafts of their books. I like the short story idea. Thank you!

  3. Giga Watt
    Posted February 25, 2010 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    Well, I, too, am an aspiring writer. It’s something I’ve liked to do since I was in, say, first grade. So I’ve learned a little trick that I love to use: write down the basics. If you can get the basics of the story down you might not feel completely relieved but you will feel better. This lets you keep your stories so you never ever forget them. If a new idea comes up for a story you already have take a note. If you get a new character take a note. Taking notes is just the basis for the strategy though.

    If you get writer’s block while doing one story crack open your notebook, take a look at one of your ideas, and get it on paper. This will have you writing constantly whether or not it’s on one story. This will help you get more done. I personally love this idea because I have six or seven solid stories going on right now and if I ever get bored of one I move on to another. And if you keep doing this before you know it you’ll have dozens and dozens of stories to write. Eventually, you will get them done.

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