Updated: Feb 14
Writing a novel is a mammoth undertaking. Not only is there the writing of the novel itself, there is also the psychological challenge of incentivising yourself to keep turning up for your creativity every day for the many months or years it takes to finish a project of this size. That’s a long time to maintain your belief and interest in one project.
Even thinking about starting a project of this size can feel overwhelming.
So, how do you go about retaining that motivation throughout such a long period?
There are many techniques that writers use to help them achieve their creative goals. Your own set of strategies will be unique to your circumstances and personality, and no one can prescribe them for you. Like much else in the writing world, there is inevitably a lot of trial and error when finding your own path through the adventure of writing a novel.
However, that is not to say that we cannot learn from one another’s well worn ideas for how to maintain that motivation for such a long and serious project. You may want to try out one or two of these ideas if they chime with you at this moment in time. Or, you could take these suggestions as a friendly reminder to carve out some time this week to reflect on your own writing practice and consider which of your strategies are working well or not so well.
1. Find a pattern of writing that works for you.
Whether you write for a living or write around a day job, one of the most important ways we can serve ourselves and our creativity is by moulding a lifestyle that enables regular creative writing. Whether this is a short daily stint of ten minutes, or setting aside four times a week to write for an hour, a consistent routine will help embed your creativity into your life.
One of the advantages of this strategy is that it removes the internal struggle associated with making yourself sit down and write. When it is an engrained habit, a lifestyle, you end up just ‘doing’ it. A further bonus of this practice of writing regularly is that it minimises the psychological stress if you have a bad day, compared to if you only write once a week or once a month. When you write often and little, the bad days simply don’t matter as much.
However, I think a note of caution needs to be made here about the oft-cited advice to write on a daily basis. Sometimes, this just is not possible because of personal circumstance or personality – even for ten minutes. I started off trying to write daily and soon became incredibly frustrated with a patten that was not serving my chronic fatigue. I now write three to four times a week, because that is what is comfortable for me and my body. When you are discovering what your routine is, make sure you are being kind to yourself and giving yourself a pattern that will be sustainable for the long run. Listen to your body in this process – it will be your foremost guide in helping you establish a routine that works well for you.
2. Celebrate the small wins.
Find ways that you can celebrate the small steps along the way.
One of the unique challenges about writing a novel is that you need to stay invested in just one project for a very long time. If, like me, you are not the most patient person in the world, it may be that you feel frustrated with the feeling that you are not making progress quickly enough.
One solution to help combat this sense of slowness is to actively create ways to celebrate the small steps towards building your novel. Perhaps this looks like writing a facebook post when you reach the next 10,000 words to celebrate this milestone. Perhaps it looks like handwriting your novel in small notebooks so that each time you finish a notebook you can feel a sense of achievement in having completed the next step. If you have someone close you feel able to share a first draft with, perhaps you can send them each chapter as you finish it in order to hear some positive feedback and encouragement. Or perhaps it looks like a monthly celebration when you take a moment to look back at all you have written in the past month and see how far you have come.
Breaking down an immense project into these bite sized pieces will help give you a sense of moving forward even in those long middle sections of a novel when you are feeling rather at sea.
3. Write your novel for someone you love.
This is quite an unusual idea, but for me this has been one of the most powerful ways to stay motivated while writing a novel. It directly addresses one of the most difficult aspects of creative writing for an aspiring author who is seeking to traditionally publish their book. It can be so hard to believe that your book is good enough, that at the end of all this time and effort someone will take a chance on you and that you will make it as a professional author. Sometimes, especially after receiving a rejection letter, I have no belief at all in my creative abilities. This makes it extremely difficult to find the motivation to continue writing on a novel.
One solution to this psychological obstacle is to choose to write your novel as a gift for someone you love. This means that when you write, your ultimate objective is to give a gift to that person, rather than in order to get published. That doesn’t mean you wouldn’t love it if your novel were to be published, or that this isn’t one important part of your hopes for this novel’s future. However, this approach means that the success of your novel is not based on whether it is accepted by someone else but whether the person you wrote your novel for loves the book you made for them. The end goal thus ceases to become about publishing success, and becomes instead about love and relationship. This is a much more achievable, and uplifting, goal to aim for.
An added bonus of this strategy is that it can provide a sort of self-imposed deadline – whether you are planning on giving your novel to this person for their birthday, anniversary or other big day, it can help to have a rough timescale in which you would like to have your novel completed by.
4. Listen to encouraging voices in the writers’ community.
One of the difficulties when writing a novel is that it can feel like a somewhat lonely endeavour. You, the intrepid pioneer, going where no creative has ever gone before. It can even feel like nobody witnesses your creativity while you are in the throes of a first, second or third draft.
Learning from one another is always such a joy!