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The Hardest Part of the Writing Process (For Me)

Sara General

My favourite piece of writing advice, which I’ve also found the hardest to follow, comes from Neil Gaiman. I looked around and was unable to find the link where he originally gave said advice, but I have it pinned up on my Pinterest page in a fun info-graph someone made. You can view it here.


The advice is simple and it was recently echoed in a Writing Excuses podcast that I listened to over the weekend. The advice is simple: FINISH WHAT YOU START. Up until now, finishing has been the part of the process that I’ve struggled with the most.


In fact, I’ve never finished a story. I’ve typed ‘THE END’ maybe six or seven times (which feels awesome in its own right). But I’ve never truly finished a novel, packaged it and had it readied for publication—whether Traditional or Indie—although I recently shared a few of my stories on my website and on Wattpad. As a result, I have a lot of novels lying around on hard drives that have never been edited a second time, much less a fifth or a sixth.


On a recent Writing Excuses podcast, Mary Robinette Kowal explained that it’s important to finish things because when you finish them; you realize what parts of the writing process you struggle with. (This was in response to a question about when and why to abandon a project, the larger discussion of which was also fantastic and worth listening to).


I liked what Mary said here because in my case, it’s very true; although the parts of the process I struggle with have not always been the same. For example, as a younger writer (in my teens and early twenties), I had a fundamental lack of knowledge about what it took to produce a book of the same quality I was reading in the store. I didn’t realize the books I was reading had gone through multiple stages of editing and copy-editing and that if I wanted mine to look the same, I would have to employ similar things. In other words, I didn’t realize what it really meant to finish something.


Now, in this age of the Internet, it is much easier to find information about what the process of writing a novel looks like and how to put your best story forward. It’s also a great deal easier to connect with people and find critique partners, beta readers, editors, and book designers using online tools and forums.


Right now, the parts of the process that I find most challenging are: the ‘THIS SUCKS AND I’M A HORRIBLE WRITER’ syndrome (an ongoing struggle throughout the writing, editing and revision stages), and making enough time in my day to make meaningful progress on my work.


Knowing all of this is helpful because it helped me to develop a plan. And I need a plan because I have a lot of stories in draft stages and I return to work in two months. I really, really want to make sure that I finish those stories and that I keep writing new work. Here’s how I am going to make sure that I do. I am going to:


1.     Write a minimum of 500 new words on a new project per day OR edit for a minimum of 1 hour every day. This is essential. Of all of the things that help me the most with the “THIS SUCKS AND I’M A HORRIBLE WRITER” – this is the best. Making writing an every day thing. Morning, noon, night, in sprints, café’s or out of doors, this is the way to keep momentum going. And you need momentum. Momentum gets you over the Mountains of Self-Doubt.

2.     Create a publishing schedule for the next 3 years (which I had to do for my publishing company as well) and pen in the dates when revisions, copy edits, formatting needs to be done.

3.     Hire editors. I’ve been working with an editor for the last three weeks. I made changes based on their feedback that made my manuscript so much stronger. I’m way happier with it and their support has helped to bring my novel closer to completion. It’s also improved my writing on other projects.

4.     Read. This kind of goes without saying, but reading helps writing in all kinds of ways. I won’t list them all. I doubt I could list them all. Suffice it to say, reading helps when you get stuck or you don’t know what to write or you don’t know how to make something better. It’s pure inspiration. Revel in it.

5.     Slow down. The slower I go, the easier this will go. It’s hard to slow down when you’re excited, but I know that’s what I need to do.

6.     Learn when to let the project go out into the world. This is something I actually have no experience with. I’ve not yet edited to the point where I just have to stop tinkering with it and publish it already. This is also on the Neil Gaiman writing tips info-graph thing—letting things go and moving onto the next project. As I get through my next drafts, I’ll be looking to other writer’s experiences to help me gauge how I’ll know when to let go. I’ll be sure to blog about it when I do.  


In the end, I decided to work towards writing (and finishing) 1-2 novels per year because now that I understand the process a bit better, and have better habits, this is how many projects I think I can reasonably finish in that time. I know authors who are finishing way more books than this a year, but right now, I’m not sure that’s feasible for me. Even two might be too many! One I can definitely hold myself to.

What about you? What is your favourite writing advice and who gave it? What has been your experience with finishing work

Happy writing!