Five ways to get back into writing your novel

New Year’s resolution: finish that novel.

So this is the year you’re going to finish that novel. Hoorah!

But where do you start? Or maybe more to the point, why did you stop?

Maybe you:

  • finished your first draft then didn’t know what to do next
  • got halfway through but couldn’t decide what happens in the end
  • knew what happens in the end but didn’t know how to get there
  • had too many ideas
  • had too few ideas
  • lost the spark
  • got frustrated
  • got busy
  • got lost down a rabbit hole
  • forgot what it was you liked about writing in the first place …

And the list of possibilities goes on.

Oh the joy and pain of writing!

The good news is that time away from your novel gives you perspective. You are your own set of fresh eyes. You might even find you are closer to finishing that novel than you thought you were.

Here are a few ideas to get you back into writing mode:

1. Do a DIY appraisal

Little wooden hippo doing DIY manuscript appraisal

An appraisal is when someone, usually an editor, reads  your work and gives you constructive feedback. But you may not be ready for an editor yet, especially if you haven’t completed the first draft. This is where a DIY appraisal comes in.

Reading your manuscript from start to finish (without fiddling) can be a great way to get back into it. It’s amazing how much perspective you can get with a bit of time away. Let the break you had from your book work to your advantage.

Here’s an earlier post with some tips for how to approach a DIY appraisal.

2. Ask someone to read it

Bunny and hippo looking through manuscript

It can be daunting handing over unfinished work to someone, but it can really help you get ideas for what to do next. For this to work you need two things: the right person and a clear idea of what you want from them.

The right person

This is probably not a loved one. They might be inclined to tell you what they think you want to hear rather than what they actually think. It’s more likely to be a straight-talking friend, one you can trust to say it like it is. That person also needs to be a reader, otherwise they will have no context for their feedback.

A clear idea of what you want

This is crucial. If you hand a manuscript to someone and just say ‘tell me you think’, they won’t know how to answer. You need to give them a brief. For example if you’ve been focusing on getting the story out and you know that the writing is still a bit rough, ask them to focus on what happens and how they felt, not on the quality of the writing. Be specific. For example ask them to make a note of anywhere that they:

  • got lost
  • lost interest
  • connected emotionally
  • wanted more

Ask them about characters:

  • who did they like?
  • who didn’t they like?
  • were there any they didn’t believe?
  • were there any they wanted more of?

They don’t need to give you a full critique of the story, they probably don’t have the skills for that. But if they tell you honestly how they felt at certain stages, or what they felt about certain characters, or what they wanted more or less of, you will be armed with new information about where your book is working and where it needs work. Which is a great way to get back into it.

3. Sign up for a writing course

Hippo, bunny and others doing a writing course

This can be a great investment. For new writers this is probably more cost effective than hiring an editor or writing coach as you can learn more about your craft and do the heavy lifting yourself to get your book to the next stage.

As you probably know, there’s so much more to writing a novel than just telling the story. A writing course will help you hone your skills and understanding in areas such as:

  • voice
  • point of view
  • character arc
  • showing and telling
  • scene and setting
  • tense and time.

And as a bonus you might find like-minded people in the course to start a writing group with.

I’ve listed a few courses I know of at the end of this post.

4. Join a writing group

Hippo, bunny and others in a writing group

When I was studying writing I learnt so much from the workshopping process. Having a group of people discuss your work is very enlightening. (It’s also nerve wracking at first but you get past that.)  It gives you multiple perspectives on your work and shows you how many different ways a piece of writing can be read.

Being in a writing group keeps you focused, as you have deadlines to work towards, and gives you and your book some allies and champions. And every writer needs a few of those.

It might take you a few goes to find the right group, but once you do it could be a real game changer. I’ve listed a few starting points at the bottom of this post.

5. Listen to other writers

Hippo listens to a podcast about writing

If you’d rather keep your writing to yourself at this stage, listening to other writers talking about their processes can be inspiring and enlightening. If you haven’t gone down the writing podcast path yet you are in for a treat: there are loads to choose from. I’ve listed a few below that I enjoy.

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So congratulations on deciding that this is the year you will finish your novel. If you still find yourself stuck after trying a few strategies I have one more recommendation, which is to get a work-in-progress appraisal. More on that in my next post.

Good luck intrepid writer. Let me know if you have any tips of your own for rekindling the fire.

Here’s my getting started resource list:

Writing courses

In person

The Faber Writing Academy has a great range of courses with top notch teachers including Toni Jordan and Paddi O’Reilly.

Online

The very talented team at Kill Your Darlings offer a number of workshops online. Loads to choose from, most you do in your own time.

Australian Writers Centre also has a great range of courses including this one on novel writing.

Writing groups

Writers Victoria have a listing here of Victorian groups.

Australian Writers’ Resources has a national listing here.

There are also lots of writers groups on Meetup, type your location in here to find a group in your neighbourhood.

Podcasts

So you Want to Be a Writer (Australian Writers Centre). I’ve not listened to it but it’s got a good wrap.

The Garret Podcast, I recommend the one with Peggy Frew.

Guardian Books, can’t go wrong.

 

Lu Sexton

Hello, I’m Lu Sexton. I’m an editor and writing coach. I’ve been working with writers like you since 2009 and I love it. My mission is to help you bring out the best in your writing and get you one step closer to being published.

Ask me how

I had been working on my first novel for years, but despite all my plotting and planning felt I was going in circles after five drafts. Lu offered to read my first 10k words and then provide a one-hour video review. She explained this is a far less expensive way to get someone like me back on track than to have her read the whole thing, editing every page. And she was right!

Her feedback was very thoughtful and honest, exactly what I needed. She covered some technical aspects, characterisation, voice, and plot themes, and diplomatically pointed out some things which might confuse the reader.

So it’s a developmental type of review with a structural twist that has inspired me to reconsider what wasn’t working so well and enhancing what was. Perfect!

Robert Frew

First-time novelist