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How to Stay Motivated to Write a Novel: 5 Top Tips

Posted in creativity, discipline, finishing your novel, Getting published, how to be a prolific writer, how to complete a novel, Independent Publishing, Learning to Write, motivation for writers, publishing your first book, Writing a novel, and Writing Tips

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Writing A Novel Is Hard Work

From many conversations I’ve had with writers, particularly new writers (although it seems to be a ubiquitous problem regardless of length of experience) it can be a real problem working out how to stay motivated to write a novel.

One of the difficulties is simple frustration; the realization that motivation doesn’t necessarily come easily. Writing a novel is a creative activity, an exciting and inspiring endeavor, and is typically embarked upon as a free choice on the part of the writer. And yet, at a certain point, it becomes so hard to continue that many would-be novelists abandon hope – and their manuscripts – and give up. Each novelist will have her own story to tell in this regard.

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5 Top Tips for How to Stay Motivated to Write a Novel

There’s no doubt that writing a novel is a huge undertaking. Just physically, mechanically, writing 200,000, or 100,000, or 60,000, or even just 50,000 words can be a daunting task. In that context, and given the practical complexities of plot, character development, grammar and syntax, internal and external arcs, foreshadowing, metaphor and symbolism, and all the other many layers and facets that must be considered, created and seamlessly interwoven to write a novel, it’s hardly surprising that keeping motivated to the end proves challenging!

I’m not going to waste time in psychoanalysis. I’m not going to look at the psychological and emotional causes of motivational difficulties, or what is commonly termed “writer’s block,” or any of that. In any case, while there may be something in common between writers, each will have her own reasons for feeling unable to continue, and those reasons may vary from time to time.

What I am going to do, however, is give you five top tips culled from my own experience, and the experience of many professional writers, friends and colleagues I have spoken with, on how to stay motivated to write a novel.

Enough preamble. Let’s plunge right in:

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Tip #1 Don’t be Critical Writing the First Draft

Always remember that good writing is an iterative process. No novel, or any writing for that matter, comes out just right first time. You will have plenty of opportunity to come back and rewrite, fix, and polish your piece before anyone else gets to see it. So relax. Allow yourself to write freely, and enjoy the process to the full.

Don’t be self-critical on the first draft. Don’t worry about using cliches, tired metaphors, rambling dialogue, and all the rest. Just get the story down. Even write several alternative versions for a single scene. Write in any order you like. Get your ideas down and have fun generating material.

You absolutely must lock your inner critic in the basement while you are getting through the first draft. Once you have that first draft, you’ll have a clearer idea of what will and won’t work for your story. Your inner critic can kill your motivation in the early stages. Ignore him and just write.

Tip #2 Plan Your Novel Before You Start Writing

It’s commonly said writers can be divided into two kinds: “planners” and “pantsers.” If you’re not already familiar with the terms, a planner is one who writes a detailed outline of the whole story from start to finish before embarking on the actual writing; a pantser is one who has an initial idea or creative spark and starts writing straightaway to see where the Muse might lead her (namely, she “writes by the seat of her pants.”)

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From what I gather, pantsers are more likely to encounter motivational problems around halfway through the novel. There’s a lot to be said for planning. If anyone tells you planning or outlining will in some way stifle your creativity, they are dead wrong.

Planning and outlining is not about shackling yourself to a rigid form. It’s about solving all the common problems associated with the structural elements of a novel, as far as possible, before embarking on the more creative aspects of the writing itself. It just makes life easier.

No outline is ever set in stone. But a good outline provides something to fall back on when inspiration falters. There’s nothing wrong with knowing where you’re going when you set out on a journey. When I go hiking, it seems sensible to me to take a map – even if I’m covering ground I’ve covered before.

Having an outline can help you maintain your motivation to finish your novel, because you can take interesting diversions and explore different ways of getting there without having the anxiety that you might lose sight of your destination. And when inspiration fails you (which it frequently will) you can turn to your outline to tell you what to do next, and soldier on.


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Tip #3 Refill the Well of Creativity as You Go

When you’re writing a novel you’ll probably be pouring your heart and soul into every step of the process. You’ll be wringing your imagination dry. All this outpouring can leave you imaginatively exhausted. I think exhaustion is often one of the key causes of loss of motivation to write a novel.

For this reason it’s incredibly important to use your non-writing time to recharge and refuel your energy and your imaginative fire. Physical exercise to oxygenate the blood and maintain the quality of your thinking is an absolute must. A good walk is the mother of good thought. Many a knotty plot problem will unravel itself during a brisk walk in the local park.

And make sure, when writing a novel, that you are also reading a great deal. Read or reread your favorite authors, works which truly move you and inspire you, any writing which you greatly admire. Get out to an art gallery or go to a concert. Feed your imagination. Feed your emotions. If you don’t, you’ll lose your motivation. If you do, you’ll be well stocked and inspired right to the end.

Tip #4 Keep Sight of Your Goal

No one, I suspect, starts writing a novel on a whim. There’s always a reason. And that reason is usually a compelling one. Whether it’s because you have something you’re burning to say or because it’s what you do to pay the bills, you should always remind yourself of why you started this process and why it’s so important to finish it. Losing sight of your end goal can reduce your motivation to keep going. Write out a sentence which sums up what it is that inspired you to get started in the first place, open up a picture on your desktop, or just tell yourself mentally what it was every time you start to write.

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Tip#5 Work to a Deadline

Give yourself a deadline. Make yourself accountable to others. Professional and traditionally published authors know this well. Having a deadline, even if it’s self-imposed, can push you to keep going even when you feel tired and demotivated. Better yet if you’ve declared that deadline to the world.

How to stay motivated to write a novel

It’s no coincidence that many successful novelists have a background in journalism or copy writing. The industry is unforgiving when it comes to deadlines. You get your copy in on time or you never work again. If you have an agent breathing down your neck or an annoyed email from an editor, that’s pretty motivating, I promise you!

If you’re writing your first novel or you’re self-publishing, then you need to set yourself a deadline. You’ll still have an editor (if you haven’t, you’re most likely wasting your time) so promise her the date at which you’ll deliver your manuscript and then stick to it.

Once you get going, you’ll have a fan base and probably a mailing list, however small at the outset. Mail out to your fans telling them when the next book they’re all waiting for will be published. Deadlines and accountability are a real solution, if sometimes more of a stick than a carrot, to the problem of how to stay motivated to write a novel.

So there you have it. You may have other things that work for you, but these are pretty universally applicable to any writer, newbie or experienced, and can really help with motivation when the Muse divorces you, the flower of inspiration withers and dies, and the well of creativity has run dry. If you have other ideas and helpful hints to share about how to keep motivated to write a novel, please add them in the comments below.

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5 Comments

  1. DankGirl
    DankGirl

    Great post! I love the ‘good walk is the mother of good thought.’ I want to pin that to the wall above my desk. It’s so true. The number of times I’ve left the keyboard in a huff, stuck on a chapter, and go off and do something else and then ‘bam’ – it’s like a fog lifting.
    Since we last chatted (via my blog) you’ve really got me thinking about self-pub. Now I just need to set that deadline.

    May 24, 2016
    |Reply
    • Austin Hackney
      Austin Hackney

      Hi Danielle,

      Great to hear from you again and I’m delighted you enjoyed this post and found it useful. I think sometimes we are in danger as writers, because we spend so much time in the virtual realities of our own imaginations, of forgetting that we are essentially physical, corporeal beings meshed deeply into the fabric of the natural world. One upshot of that is we often spend too much time sitting on chairs and just not moving very much. But all our thoughts are generated by the body, particularly the brain of course, and that needs lots of light and water and above all, oxygen, to function well. Once you’ve been sitting down for five minutes your breathing becomes very shallow. Coffee can help temporarily by artificially stimulating metabolism, but in the end you need to walk, or run, or work in the garden, or whatever, to function well as a human animal. I’m a great fan of the standing desk for that reason.

      I’m happy you are considering self-publishing. There’s not a lot to lose. If your work takes off, you’ve won. If if vanishes without trace, you can pull it, wait a while and then feed it back into the traditional agent/publishing house stream.

      When you’re setting that deadline, I’d suggest that you allow plenty of time to do lots of careful research first. Start that journey of finding out the particular “rules” and “nuances” of the independent world. It will save you a lot of heart-ache and bafflement in the long term putting in that time now. And a word of warning: there’s a whole sub-industry now, wherein “best-selling authors” get you into a free webinar claiming to help you publish better and sell more books, but really all they’re doing is trying to upsell you a “course” costing hundreds of dollars/pounds in which they promise to teach you their “secrets” to success and all that. Just ignore all that. You don’t need to pay a penny to find out anything. Those people are just old 90s style internet marketers dressed in author’s clothing. Don’t be tempted. There are no secrets! Just a lot of hard work.

      Do your research, ask friendly authors you know who are maybe a bit further along the road than you for free advice. We’re mostly very friendly!

      Good luck, keep in touch, and if you have any questions at all, don’t hesitate to ask – either here or on Twitter. As I’ve said before, I’m no guru to be followed. But I have some knowledge and experience I’m more than happy to share freely. And I know a few people in the industry, so if I don’t know the answer to something, I almost certainly will know someone who does.

      Thanks again for calling by. All the best!

      May 25, 2016
      |Reply
  2. Your posts are very inspiring! 🙂 I used to plan and outline my works, and it did work for me – I just felt like I was writing an essay, and not doing something fun, so I stopped planning in my latest work. As long as I have a general idea of the ending, I can improvise the middle pretty well. Being a panster would imply that you didn’t know what would happen at all – just have a general idea. But I like to think I’m combining both mental planning and pantsing into a good medium: plantsing? 😀

    I agree with you when you say that planning doesn’t stifle your creativity, however for some people like me it’s hard to let go of the plan because you feel like you MUST stick to it, rather than go off on unexpected tangents. So in a way, it’s restrictive. But it is useful in the long-term because you’ll usually finish the draft. I did notice that when I did finish my drafts, they didn’t even follow the initial plan – it was funny comparing it, because it went off in a completely different direction.

    Stories are like people, you don’t know much about them from the first encounter. Only later, you do understand what makes them tick.

    I should go back to writing – I’ve been very bad. But I do enjoy reading your posts, so… whatever. xD

    September 25, 2016
    |Reply
    • Austin Hackney
      Austin Hackney

      Hi Farrah,

      Thanks for your interesting contribution. There are, of course, no hard and fast rules with universal applicability. Each to their own. All that matters in the last analysis is that the work is completed. I’m never a slave to my plan. Good ideas and possibilities deserve attention even if, as is often the case, they mean I have to go back and re-write the plan in order to accommodate them! In fact, it’s true to say that when I’m writing, I’m constantly revising the plan as I go. The plan is more an initial, flexible guide which furnishes me with a safety net and keeps me on track. My outlines are very detailed but rarely mention the minutiae of events. They tend to plot the arc of character development, the key influences of struggle and transformation, as that for me is the heart of the story. How that is expressed in world-building and action is then invented on the hoof.

      One of my favored techniques, which I don’t think I mentioned here, is to write the final chapter or scene first. Then I go back to the beginning and work my way toward it.

      September 26, 2016
      |Reply
      • Thank you, I’ll try out that technique you mentioned of writing the first chapter first on my own work. It’s a good idea.

        September 26, 2016
        |Reply

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