Thursday, January 2, 2014

Weekly Writing Wrambling - How To Finish A Novel

Since I am supposed to be revising now and I’m not, this seems as good a time as any to discuss the self-discipline of writing, or as I prefer to think of it, Why Some People Finish Novels and Others Don’t.

I finished my first novel at fourteen, if we define novel as “a long piece of fiction”. It was not particularly good, but hey! I was fourteen! It was 127,436 words long, and took a little over two years to write. I finished my novel and immediately started work on the sequel, which only took nine months to finish and was a teensy bit longer (128,368). Since then, I have won National Novel Writing Month multiple times, which means 50,000 words in a month; one year, I wrote 100,000 words in thirty days. None of this is to boast, but rather to point out that by fourteen, I gained the discipline one needs to finish a novel.

Discipline is hardly a glamorous concept, but it one of the few things most writers agree about writing. If you want to write anything longer than a page, you need to have discipline. You need to have discipline to return to that document countless times. You need to have discipline to pace out your story, because the story needs to have more than just a beginning and ending. You need to have discipline to not just jump ship and start writing something else because it sounds so much more exciting.

But the hardest part is, there probably will not be a reward other than some satisfaction. You need to return to that novel again and again, and then continue the same process with another novel. Odds are that the novel will rot on your hard drive. But you are not going to get a good grade or a degree or a promotion out of that work. There are useful skills you learn that can translate into those things, but the work itself will not provide them.

That is the pitfall for most people, I suspect. We live in a society that focuses on rewards, and what you physically gain from work. To put in hours of effort over something that does not gain you anything is a skill. Some people say that you have the skill or you don’t, but I don’t think that the trick to finishing a novel is something you are born with any more than the ability to do calculus. Maybe some people have a predisposition to being disciplined, but you can teach yourself the skill. But you have to be willing to discipline yourself into spending that time writing, and accepting some failure along the way. The reason why some people finish novels and others don’t? Some have learned the discipline; the others have not. It is that simple.

The more difficult part of writing is probably what sounds the easiest, and that is learning how to tell a story. I will discuss that next week.

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