Got a novel you’ve set on the backburner? Perhaps you have an almost-done novel, or a novel you started and gave up on. There’s no need to give up: you can rescue your novel, and complete it.
I’m currently rescuing a half-completed novel; I stopped writing it when I got busy in the weeks before Christmas. The extended hours of my day job left me stressed and exhausted, so I took a break from the novel. I realized a few days ago that the break was likely to be permanent, unless I started working with the novel again.
Here’s a process I’ve found useful to rescue an unfinished novel, and complete it.
Start by reading your novel, but don’t make notes yet
It’s time to read what you have.
Ignore your feelings for now. Whether the novel is better than you remembered, or worse, keep reading, but don’t make notes.
All done? Perhaps you’re overwhelmed. You’re thinking about everything that’s wrong with your novel. Whisper this mantra to yourself: “I’m completely at ease, and I complete my novel with ease…”
There’s a reason you haven’t completed your novel: acknowledge it
There’s always a reason that we procrastinate, or give up, on a novel. We give ourselves excuses, but the real reason is beyond those excuses. Acknowledge the reason, if you know it. Ask your creative self to handle it, and give you ideas for a solution.
Should your inner critic pop up, thank him for his opinions: “I don’t like the heroine, she’s fake!”, “You’ve got too many characters!”, “Call that a plot?!”
Then ignore him.
Take a few deep breaths, and know that you’ve got this. Remember to feel at ease, and take these three steps.
1. Ask yourself: “what’s the story question?”
The “story question” is your novel’s spine.
With a love story, the question is simple — will your lovers overcome the challenges in their way, and have their Happily Ever After (HEA)? A HEA is essential if you’re writing a romance.
Thinking about your genre helps you to decide on a story question. In mysteries, the question is, will the sleuth unmask the killer?
Perhaps you know your story question already. Write it down.
Don’t know the story question?
Here’s how to handle it. Set a timer for ten minutes, and write. Start with this phrase: “My story question might be…”
Write anything which comes to mind, stream of consciousness style.
Once you have your story question, it’s time to make that question central to your novel.
2. Delete unneeded scenes, and write missing scenes — make a list of changes
At this stage, it’s helpful to make an outline — just one line per scene — of the scenes you’ve written. Next, you need to steel yourself to be ruthless.
Delete every scene which doesn’t fit in with your story question. You can save the scenes in a “Later” or “Unneeded” file if you like.
List scenes which are needed.
Remember: ease. I’ve found that your biggest challenge when you’ve lost confidence in a novel is your inner critic. Thank him for his opinions, and ignore him. He’ll pop up again and again.
3. Complete your novel: just write and aim for ease
Now start writing again — don’t stop.
Once you have the story question, you’ll need to do some rewriting before you can move forward and write your way to the end of your novel. Schedule your writing sessions.
Your inner critic is your biggest challenge
When I started writing, I found it much more fun to start novels than to finish them. I’d write three or four chapters — sometimes ten or more chapters — then I’d stop. Six months later, I’d delete the folder with the novel.
Completing an unfinished novel forces you to face your inner critic. The first time you face him, it’s hard. It becomes easier. Over time, you’ll ignore the critic.
Good luck with your novel. Keep writing. 🙂