5 Ways to Stick with Your Novel When You Feel Like Giving Up
Week 1 of Camp NaNoWriMo, or any big writing journey, is the week full of excitement. Everything is new and pretty and full of hope and wonder. You have the world at your feet and you are so confident that you can climb this writing mountain and conquer it.
Then week 2 sets in. You start to question everything, wondering why you ever thought this was a good idea in the first place, and sometimes you wonder if your story is worth it at all.
This is where I'm at today.
Would you like a quick and easy answer? The easy way out? Quit. You're allowed. It's really okay. There's less stakes than if you were to quit your job or something. You DON'T HAVE to do this. If you want to give up, then give up. No one is stopping you.
Is that what you wanted to hear?
I didn't think so.
You started this project because you had a mission. You believed in this story. You believed in yourself. You made goals and you made a plan to put them into action. Where'd that power go?
Building a habit is hard. Sticking with something is hard. There's a MILLION BAJILLION QUADRUPLE GAZILLION guides out there of how to make or break a habit. (Okay, there might not be this many, but it's a whole industry!). And why does it sell? Because people still can't figure out how it works for them. And they continuously give up on things because it's hard.
Will you be one of those people? Will you quit on your novel because you can't build a habit? Because it's hard?
I know you don't want to be one of those people. You don't want to give up. You don't want to be a quitter. How do I know this? Because I'm psychic. (Not really but I wish). Because you're reading this post that is aptly titled: How to Stick with Your Novel when You Feel Like Giving Up. You're seeking advice and help.
Well, my friend, you're in luck. First of all, just know that you're not alone. I, too, am in this boat where I fear giving up on my novel, but I REFUSE TO DO IT! I am sticking with this thing to the end. And so if you're looking for a motivational accountability buddy, I'm right here!
Second of all, here's some little tricks that have been helping me keep going.
1 | Look at what you HAVE accomplished so far
You've already taken the hardest step: going from nothing to something. You made a decision to write this and you started writing it. That's awesome! Take a look at your current word count and be proud of how much you've completed so far. Whether that's 20k words or 500 words. The "right answer" is anything above 0. And you've done that already. Be proud of yourself. You deserve it!
2 | Bribe yourself with a "gold star"
Remember in kindergarten when you did something good you got a gold star? And you could look at the poster board every day and see all your gold stars in a row? And it was so rewarding just to see that? (PS I don't actually remember doing this in kindergarten but the idea works, so go with me here).
This tip is asking you to do the same thing. Every time you meet your writing goal for the day, whether that's meeting your word count or writing for a certain period of time, give yourself a little sticker on your calendar.
I LOVE this idea. It costs next-to-nothing and you get to use stickers on a daily basis (who doesn't want that, am-I-right?!). And for some weird reason it feels SO GOOD to give yourself a sticker for completing your work each day. It's a small reward, but it freaking works.
The double-awesomeness of it comes when you've collected a few reward stickers. When you're feeling doubtful about writing, you can look back at the whole of your calendar and see all your stickers staring at you. And it's like they're saying, "You did it then, you can do it again now." Wouldn't want to disappoint the stickers now, would we?
3 | Make a list of everyone who wants you to finish your novel
This is a way to have others hold you accountable and they don't even have to do any work. Think of all the people who have invested in your success - family members, friends, relatives, work friends, your boss, your mentors, your sixth-grade teacher, virtual writing friends, your favorite authors - and make a list of them. They could've actually asked you about your novel, told you your idea was great, or they could have no idea that you exist. But would they like to see you finish your novel? Probably. A better question: Would you like to tell them you've finished your novel? Definitely.
Nobody has to see this list besides you, so don't worry about judgement. But it's a nice list to have by your desk as a pick-me-up when you're feeling like the story doesn't matter and nobody cares if you finish it or not. Because your novel DOES matter and you've got a whole list of people who want to see it.
4 | Play the "what-if" game with yourself
Give yourself the freedom to quit right now. Imagine you did quit your novel. Ask yourself, "What if I quit?" What does that world look like? A world without your novel in it? How do you feel about quitting on this novel? What will you tell people on your list of people invested in you finishing this thing? What is the reason why you quit? Can you eliminate that reason and desire to quit somehow?
Now play the game in the opposite direction. "What if I finish it?" What does that world look like? How do you feel about that? How do you anticipate telling your people that you've finished it? Imagine all the good, warm-fuzzy feelings that come with the satisfaction of finishing something. Spend some time visualizing how your world would be different if you finished this thing. Live here in this imagination, and think about it every day. Visualize your success and make it your reality.
5 | As for the actual writing, go straight for the hard stuff
This may seem counterintuitive. If I'm having trouble writing, why would I try writing the sections that I know are going to be hard sections? Because you're going to get it out of the way.
Let me explain. In my novel, I'm still not sure how I'm going to end it. I know the tone of how I want it to end. I know how the themes all tie up. But I'm not sure literally what happens in the plot. This is a story that I have been wrangling for years and I haven't let it go because I can't figure out the damn ending. So when I hit this stopping point in the beginning, I wondered if it had anything to do with my dread of getting closer to the end (I'm no where close to the end, but 500 words closer is still 500 words closer).
So I tackled it head on. I made my characters have a hard conversation that they didn't want to have and paid attention to what happened. I allowed them to admit that they didn't know how they felt and they didn't know how to solve their dilemma. I just got into the scene to see what would come up.
AND EVERYTHING STARTED COMING SO NATURALLY. I wrote three and a half pages without a thought, without stopping.
And it's not terrible. It was certainly not pulling teeth like I had been doing for the 45 minutes before it.
Is everything solved? Do I have my ending? Not quite. But I've inched just a tiny bit closer to figuring it out, and I feel good about that. And I can give myself a sticker for the day. Woop woop!
So go to your "hard part" and just see what happens. Remember, this is a first draft, a "shitty" draft, and so if it ends up not working then you can throw it all away later. But go there, write it out, and see if you can reach your writing goals for today. Take it slow. Take it calmly. This whole thing is only one day at a time.
Writing a novel isn't easy, and it never will be. There will be good times and bad times, times when the writing flows naturally and times when you feel like giving up. When you're feeling frustrated and defeated, give yourself a pep-talk and try some of these tips. You and your novel are worth it.
What do you do when you're feeling stuck with your novel? How do you regain motivation and momentum? How do you learn to persevere with your work?