Looking for that perfect novel-writing hack?

You’re two weeks into NaNoWriMo, and you’re starting to run out of gas. You had a great idea that everyone loved when you announced it, but now you realize you’ve plotted yourself into a corner, or a character’s defining trait isn’t plausible to you anymore, or you just don’t like the narrative tone as much as you thought you did.

But, have no fear, there’s bound to be a solution for this. Someone has a hack you can employ, right? A quick search yields dozens of methods authors have used to finish a novel. The steps, from concept to finished manuscript, are in excruciating detail. They all have you producing a 90,000-word or so narrative in no time that is both internally consistent and enjoyable to read.  

I’ve got bad news. They’re all myths. None of them work. Not a one. They all lead to disappointment and failure.

‘But,’ you ask, ‘how can that possibly be true when [successful writer X] swears by [insert their pet method here?]

We all want to believe that there is a technical insight that will help us finish our novel. We’re used to instructables and how-to videos on youtube. What you think you need is a tactical solution. This reduces the frustration of the process to a series of checking off tasks – and before you know it, you will be basking in the glory of being a published author.

But, this puts the onus of failure on the method instead of the writer. The reality is that you’re already using a method. Sure, it might not be very deliberate, but you’re approaching your novel with some kind of pattern. You’ve merely hit the wall. Ask a distance runner what ‘hitting the wall’ means. They will tell you all about it. Writing a novel is an endurance sport, not a sprint.

At some point in every method you will hit the wall. There will be a task that stops you in your tracks, or a change in your schedule that prevents your writing routine. There will be something that either slows you down or stops you completely.

This is not to say that there is no value in any of these methods. Far from it, in fact. Any one of them may be just the tool you need to chip away at the work of writing your novel. For me, I found a modified ‘snowflake method’ let me approach the story in a manner I could handle without being overwhelmed by its immensity. My ‘wall’ was moments of extended dialogue. For example, I didn’t know what to do with my hands – or rather I didn’t know what to do with my characters’ hands. Writing action during dialogue, such as changes in body language and positioning, always slowed me down and sounded awkward and insincere.

Finishing your first book is like running up a mountain. It looks imposing and is a very long way to go. Luckily you aren’t the first person to ever run a mountain, and lots of folks have forged trails and left detailed instruction along the way. All you seemingly have to do is pick a trail that suits you, and go. The difficult part is actually running up the mountain.

The truth is; trails don’t climb the mountain for you anymore than methods write novels. You have to keep moving when you are tired, and you have to keep working at your writing through the difficult bits. I do not mean simply plodding along putting words on paper, I mean when you come to your rock wall, you don’t give up and leap off the mountain, you learn how to rock climb and scale the wall. The next wall you come to you will climb right over it without slowing down.

So I guess I should have said said basically every method works. Or at least they can. They all lead to a finished book. The barrier between your idea and a book in your hands is very likely the determination and will to push through that wall. The secret isn’t some quirky trick you employ when you sit down to write each day. It’s that you sit down to write each day.

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