How do you finish a novel?

Lee Weatherly
15 January 2019
Article uploaded by
Mo Harber-Lamond

After the initial explosion of new story ideas and a creative honeymoon writing phase, continuing a novel can feel like a hard and uninspired slog. Author Lee Weatherly suggests practical ways to keep going and finish a first draft of your novel.

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Writing a Novel

Nothing beats the euphoric first rush of love, whether it’s romantic love or story love. When I get a new story idea, I’m on cloud nine. It’s a buzz, a high. I walk around with a bounce in my step, feeling like I can conquer the world.

That’s the fun part. But then taking that idea and crafting it into a novel? Spending a year or longer with it, slogging away long after the first rush of enthusiasm is gone, leaving you with only self-doubt and stubbornness? Yeah… That’s not always much fun at all.

Once you float down from the clouds and tackle the daunting task of turning your idea into a reality, it can be easy to become fed up with it. Suddenly your characters – once as sharp and glittering as crystal – seem boring and annoying. The idea itself feels trite. New ideas pop into your head, each more seductive than the last.

All you want to do is ditch this stupid project you’re working on and find something – anything! – else to write.

This isn’t surprising. We’re hard-wired as humans to take the easiest route, and writing a novel is never, on any planet, the easiest route. It’s work. Hopefully fulfilling work, but work nonetheless – and frankly not nearly as immediately gratifying as that first rush.

Your unconscious mind knows this, and now it’s desperately trying anything it can to distract you from the task ahead and recreate that high for itself.

If you feel like you’re falling out of love with your story, revisit your characters. Do you know then well enough?

Lee Weatherly

My advice is to fake it until you make it. If you feel like you’re falling out of love with your story, revisit your characters. Do you know then well enough? It can be useful to consider them outside of your story for a moment and study them as people. What music do they like? What websites do they visit? What’s their favourite colour?

Although these small details might not make a direct appearance in your story, they function to fully realise your character, helping you to write them making the ‘right’ decisions.

It can also be of great help – and great fun, too – to remind yourself of why you started to write this story. Did the character arrive in your head one day, banging at the door to be heard? Perhaps this is a story that you just can’t keep inside for any longer. Whatever your reasons, taking a moment to remind yourself why you started will give you the impetus to power through the hard work.

If you’re struggling to make any meaningful progress, it could mean that you’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere up the line.

Lee Weatherly

Finally, sometimes it’s worth stepping away from the keyboard and taking a breath. If you’re struggling to make any meaningful progress, it could mean that you’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere up the line. Refer to your plan – if you’ve made one! – and see if there’s a strong cause and effect between each of your previous scenes or plot points.

Also, make sure that you haven’t made someone act out of character just to fit your original plot – if it’s not believable, it could be time to reconsider their actions and adjust your plot accordingly.

The most important thing, though, is to rediscover what you loved about your idea in the first place – and keep going. Writing a novel is a relationship; you have to be willing to commit. A bit of blind faith doesn’t go amiss, either.

As you progress, I promise that you’ll find something far deeper and richer than that initial high. It’s the difference between infatuation and a long and fulfilling marriage. You would never have started down this path without the former, but the latter is the payoff. Trust yourself and your characters, and keep writing.

Lee Weatherly

Lee Weatherly has written more than 50 books for children and young adults, including the bestselling Angel series, and is published in 20 different languages.

Awards for her work include the Sheffield Children’s Book Award, the Stockport Children’s Book Award and the Leeds Book Award; she was also shortlisted for the Edgar Allan Poe Award and the RoNA Award.

Passionate about guiding new writing talent, Lee works as a mentor, including for The WoMentoring Project and Gold Dust, and over 15 years has taught workshops and residential courses for Arvon, SCBWI and at Hay, Edinburgh and YALC festivals – she’s seen many of her former students go on to writing careers of their own. She is also a tutor on Faber Academy's Writing A Novel: The First 15,000 online course.

Writing a Novel: the first 15,000 online course

Begins: 25 September 2019