Writing a novel is a long-term undertaking, measured by months and years. To keep your creativity fresh during that time is one of the toughest challenges writers face. I am deep in the process of revising my latest novel, Second Sun – I’m enjoying it, the book is taking shape, the characters and setting are beginning to gel but I cannot lie, it’s been tough going at times. That initial blast of writing the first draft, where everything seems new and the possibilities are endless, is replaced by the often repetitious slog of working and reworking the text, made harder of course by the other demands and responsibilities we all have in life.
I guess this is common to all writers. Books are not written in sudden explosive bursts of creativity, but in the steady, plodding effort of writing, revising and editing (not to mention planning and research). The progress can feel slow, painfully slow, almost as though you are not making progress at all. It is a different feeling from writer’s block (something I have blogged about previously), where it seems hard to form any new ideas, when even putting down a sentence becomes a monumental struggle. No, this is about keeping going, maintaining momentum, however much you feel like giving up.
I’ve always believed it is not the writing you do when you feel energised and inspired that counts – much more important is the work you do when you don’t feel like writing, the work you do when you’re tired or stressed, the work you do because you’re passionately committed to getting your book finished. Writing a novel is a tough task and there will be bumps in the road, however, this doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do to make the process a little more comfortable and ultimately, more rewarding. Here are a few ways you can stay on track:
When the going gets really tough, take a break, take a metaphorical step back from your work in progress. It’s not about giving up, but about giving yourself a chance to remember why you are writing, to remember what you are trying to say through your book. It’s ok to fall out of love with your book at times – it will happen, and you’ll forgive it eventually! Putting some distance between you and your book will allow you to see above the day-to-day slog of writing and rewriting.
No doubt you have done lots of research for your book but even though you are heavily into the process of writing it, it doesn’t mean you should stop learning and exploring. Stay curious - get out and about if you can; for example, I always find a trip to a museum or an art gallery inspires fresh ideas – failing that, reading reference books on related subjects, such as mythology, art and history can provide new insights and angles, which bring new life to your writing.
Break your routine
We all have writing routines and habits, and these are often very helpful. However, when progress slows and the process feels stale, it is worth trying to do things differently. Just try some simple changes: if you can, work from a different room, or write longhand for a while rather than using a computer – anything to disrupt your normal routine and help you look at your work with a different perspective. If you’re feeling more daring, perhaps even try one of Brian Eno’s oblique strategies, which are posted daily to his twitter account (https://twitter.com/dark_shark)
When you’re deep in the process of writing a novel – tired, anxious and frustrated - the idea of reading a book for pleasure can sometimes feel like adding insult to injury! But if you want to write, you must keep reading, even if it’s just for a few minutes each day. As well as the sheer enjoyment of reading, if you read a good variety of books it can only improve your writing – you will pick up, consciously or unconsciously, new ideas and techniques that will permeate your writing.
I hope these are some useful pointers for when the going gets tough. Writing a book is a long journey, but word by word, sentence by sentence, you will get there!
If you’re interested in my writing, you can get the ebook version of my first novel - The Map of the Known World – for FREE. Please see the Kindle preview below: