Why Not to Work on Your Novel

writing paperI assume if you are reading this blog, you either have been or currently are in the middle of the long slog that is writing a novel. I am. I’m in year three, and still I don’t see an end. It’s disheartening, often discouraging, and if you are a goal-oriented person, it can be downright depressing to have the same thing on your to-do list for YEARS. Yet, we write on because writing is what we do. So we write when we can. Maybe that’s during any free time we get from family commitments and life obligations. Maybe that means writing during your lunch hour at work. For many of us, that means writing on weekends and evenings while others are taking weekend trips to Maine, reading, or watching the latest episode of True Detective.

All of this non-finishing takes a toll. If you are like me, you ask yourself why you keep doing this. Other questions that come up frequently are: 1) Can I really write? 2) When will this stupid thing be done? 3) What more fun thing could I be doing right now? Then you daydream about picking up your laptop and chucking it out a third story window, novel parts crushed on the cement below, and you laugh and laugh…

But you don’t toss the laptop, because, you know, your novel is on it. Despite it all, you do want to finish it and send it out into the world. Instead of giving up, try writing something else. Yes, you read that right–take some of that fleeting free time and write something–anything–else. Focus your energies on a blog post, an essay, a short story, or even a haiku. You’ll feel better about yourself, and your novel will benefit.

On benefits to you: If you write something short, something you can actually draft, revise, polish, and declare it complete, you can remind yourself of two very important things: 1) Yes, you can write, and 2) Yes, you can get something done. These are two good reminders during the long novel writing process, when much of that time you decidedly cannot write and obviously cannot get anything done. If the post gets published on a website or that personal essay gets published somewhere in print, even better. That’s motivation. That’s proving to yourself that you can successfully write something.

On benefits to your novel: As novelists, there is now an expectation to have a social media presence. It’s not good enough that we spend years writing our opuses. Each of us could write the next The Great Gatsby, but if our mugs aren’t online, no one is going to care. Yet, we are also told not to hard sell our novels. No tweets that declare: “HERE IS MY BOOK, BUY IT NOW, AND I WILL LOVE YOU FOREVER.” That’s tacky, rude, and gets annoying. But say your novel is about growing up on a dairy farm in Pennsylvania. Why not write an essay about life on a farm? Or about dairy cows? Or about Pennsylvania? If it gets published, you get backhand publicity for your novel and establish yourself as an author who is knowledgeable about the matters you have written about. You can show the world you can write.

Don’t know what to write? Here’s a guide to help you out:

1) Personal Essay – I love writing these pieces. They are short and can be on any topic and have many publishing options, some of which pay. (Think of it! Money! To write!) I also find them terribly cathartic.

2) Flash Fiction – These pieces are short, fun, and flexible. You can let your creativity fly, and since each word counts, you learn a little something about the importance of word choice along the way.

3) Blog Post – Posts are quick and easy to write with many publishing options. You can write on topics related to your book, build an online presence, and learn to write on a deadline.

4) Poetry – Not something I write, but I would imagine writing a poem could get rid of a lot of angst about writing your novel.

5) Short Story – Again, not something I write with any regularity, but writing a short story could help with plot mechanics in your novel.

Don’t stop there. You can also write opinion pieces, letters to the editor, journal entries, or letters to your mom. Write something, anything, that reminds you of why you love to put words on a page. It’s hard not to commit every free hour to the thing that looms largest on that to-do list. More hours spent writing and working on the novel, the sooner the thing can come off the list. I feel like that, but I am gradually coming around to the idea that writing other things can only help even if it delays writing the end of your novel. Try it once. Write an essay or a blog post and see how it feels. It’ll be good for you, good for your book, and good for your soul. And hey, it’ll remind you that yes, you actually can write and write well.

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