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Writing a Novel

Writing a novel is no small undertaking. Everything listed under Writing Help and Writing Process on this web site applies to novel writing, with the additional challenge of an extended time frame. Not every potential writer can sustain interest in a book length project, and many will give up before they finish.

Each of my previous two novels took five years to write. I'm not suggesting a novel should take that long, but many do. Few novels take less than two years, and if there is an "average" length for writing a novel, it is somewhere between two and four years. It takes time to plan, research and write a book, and a good part of those two to four years will be spent first thinking and imagining, and later revising, revising, revising.

Don't stress yourself out about timing. My editor at HarperCollins, Iris Tupholme, told me that "writing a novel takes as long as it takes." Hearing her say that freed me. It makes no difference if the writing takes two years or ten. It is the outcome that's important, and that requires both talent and motivation. To help with motivation, I've created the Novel Writing Immersion for small groups or individuals committed to finishing a novel. For more information, click on the link, and let's get started!

If you prefer to do it on your own, it's easy to get discouraged and lose motivation part way into the writing, so it's important to know how to revive dwindling interest and maintain enthusiasm for all the months and years it will take to finish the job.

So how to shake off "writers' block" and stay motivated? All writers have their own methods for staving off stagnancy, but mine is simple: Plan, exercise, and read. I use a loose plot outline to stay on track. And when I'm tired of writing I get outside. The change and fresh air does more good than we imagine. Smell the air. Take a walk. Even a short walk clears the mind and gets the blood circulating. I also take time away from writing to read. Whether I read fiction or non-fiction, I can't read the words of others for long before I itch to write my own.

I advocate reading a LOT of books about writing and novel writing. I still do, even after twenty-something years writing professionally. I learned early that every “rule” I found in one book would be contradicted in another, and I wanted the full picture in order to make my own decisions. You should have the full picture, too. If you read as much as you can about writing a novel, you'll gain confidence and trust your intuition more as you practice what you learn. You'll know better where you're aiming, and you'll see feedback as interesting, informative, and useful, rather than as rigid rules.

I have several shelves of writing books in my library, and several e-books about writing a novel on my computer, and I use them as valuable and often inspirational guides when I'm writing. I've seen and bought a lot of trash over the years, but some of my favourites are listed in the writing library.

These authors and others provide necessary inspiration, but writing a novel remains a long haul, however you approach it. Nevertheless, if you concentrate on writing one active scene a day, you will have a completed novel far sooner than you may imagine.

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