Ten Tips for Finishing Your First Novel

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1. You’re not writing unless you’re writing.

I once worked in sales. My mentor said, “If you’re not talking to a customer about your product, you’re not selling.” The same is true for writing. Researching, outlining, and brainstorming are important, but they are not the same as writing. Put your pen to the paper, your fingers to the keyboard, and write.


2. Write because you enjoy writing.

Flannery O’Conner once said, “Everywhere I go, I’m asked if I think the universities stifle writers. My opinion is that they don’t stifle enough of them.” There are enough writers out there. Don’t do this unless you enjoy it.


3. Say no.

Parents of two-year olds learn this trick: give the child only two options. Do this with your writing and other things that compete for your time. Do you want to be a writer or watch American Idol? Play Red Dead Redemption or be a writer? Have a third child or be a writer?

It’s not that you can’t have two hobbies, but you can’t do everything.


4. Write every day.

Getting back to a project takes time. Try to write at least a little bit every day, so that you minimize the time it takes you to reacquaint yourself with your work.


5. Keep a clean workspace.

A messy desk is a distraction.  Your desk is like the dashboard of your car. It should contain a few useful tools (computer, pen, stapler etc.) and nothing else. With this said, don’t prioritize cleaning your office over writing. (See Tip 3.)


6. Don’t believe your lies.

Many writers create elaborate, self-defeating stories about their writing process. I knew one woman who claimed she could only write on a red sofa at a particular coffee shop in Portland, Oregon. When the coffee shop when out of business, she stopped writing. If you ever wonder if you’re telling yourself lies, try substituting “making sandwiches” for “writing.”

I can’t make sandwiches until the house is clean. [Lie]

Sometimes I have to stop making sandwiches for a few months just so I can let the sandwich process subconsciously. [Lie]

If I don’t have my favorite knife, I just can’t make sandwiches. [Lie]


7. Set time goals.

Before you publish your first novel, you don’t know how long it’s going to take. So don’t tell yourself “today I’ll finish Chapter 10.” You might not. Chapter 10 might be a bear that takes you two months to wrestle. Instead, say “today I’m going to spend three uninterrupted hours writing.”


8. One project at a time.

Eventually the cycle of submitting, editing, and publishing will demand that you have several works in progress simultaneously, but until then, work on one project at a time. Your goal is to finish, not to dabble.


9. Discover your method. Forget the pen.

Every established writer has a method. I’ve blogged about mine. It is kind of like workflow in a factory. A writer with a well-established method does not get bogged down in fears, doubts, or writer’s block. They know that if they do X then Y then Z everything will work out (just like it did last time). Pay attention to what works for you and start developing your method.   (But don’t become Red Sofa Girl and mistake your favorite pen, chair, or coffee shop for your method.)


10. Keep trying.

Only effort will produce great writing. Preserver through every step of the process. There is no other answer.


 For more on writing, check out

Writing Your Novel in Ten Easy [to Impossible] Steps,

Advice to Writers on Rejection

and more from Karelia at www.kareliastetzwaters.com

4 thoughts on “Ten Tips for Finishing Your First Novel

  1. Thanks so much for your comment, Andrea. I used to commute a lot for my work, and I always had a notebook in the car. As soon as I’d arrive somewhere, I’d write down all the ideas I had while driving. I think I wrote my first book that way.


  2. Terrific list!

    I especially like:

    #6 is great for the unblocking the psychology that keeps writers from getting down to business.

    #8 for keeping it organized and realizing that interest wanes and the sheer volume of ideas can’t get DONE and out there without a concentrated effort to FINISH something!


    #9 Finding the flow, opening the line, establishing the connection that is not unlike performing under regular, established conditions like a sport. Writing for me is like taking that trickling idea and getting it on tap. Or training that niggling voice that’s in there to perform, instead of going “ooh ooh, pick me, I have something to tell you, are you ready to dictate?!” when I’m driving or half asleep.

    Still, I carry a notebook or talk to my phone all the time in case the muse gets mouthy at all the wrong moments.


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