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Will you ever finish a novel if you don't write every day?

Spoiler: Yes, as soon as you stop torturing yourself and your characters.

As a teenager, I regularly attended a writing workshop. We read our effusions to each other, and then there was feedback from the group and the workshop manager. So far, I mainly had written short stories. But at one of the meetings, I enthusiastically told the workshop manager that I wanted to try writing a novel now.

The expression on her face changed, her forehead furrowed. "Then you'll have to write every day!" Being able to write every day seemed to be necessary. This advice came from a woman I looked up to, an experienced writer. Of course, I took her words to heart. Set in stone, it was clear to me from now on: I write a novel by sitting down and working on it every day. If I don't, I will inevitably fail.

To believe in this advice was the beginning of an endless struggle against myself. So many times, I started new projects and felt like a failure because I took a break from writing after the initial excitement wore off. And the workshop manager seemed to be correct. Because I didn't write every day, I never finished a novel. A vicious circle!

When I got the idea for my pirate story, Red Lilly, I was ready to go into battle again. As a mother of three, I saw only one way to do this: I set the alarm clock at 4 a.m. for ninety days. Thanks to Mel Robbin's 5-second rule, I jumped out of bed on time and wrote the 1,000 words - sometimes agonising, sometimes with ease. The campaign aimed to have a 90,000-word manuscript in hand after three months, and I did it! I proudly pat myself on the back at the end. I wrote 90,000 words in 90 days. 💪

There was only one catch. When I read through the manuscript a few weeks later, I wanted to throw it straight in the trash. It wasn't the right story, just a simple plot, lengthy at times, and I had no idea who my characters were. And what should I do about all the plot holes I found? How could I fill them as creatively as possible without it feeling constructed?

All of this highly power-consuming action only brought me closer to the novel that I wanted in the end to a limited extent. I had written (almost) every day, but still, I didn't have a novel. I finally managed to implement what the workshop manager had given me so many years before: to write every day for three months. But the result was sobering.

Of course, I know the first draft must be poorly written. At least I had something to work with now, didn't I? But the very thought of sitting down on this tangle of a manuscript to revise it, to iron out all the weaknesses, bored me to death. This mess wasn't going to be the novel I wanted in the end. It was flat and pale. Certain elements that I had sucked out of my fingers, so to speak, just felt too constructed. Dead!

On her blog writing coach Lauren Sapala writes:

You cannot force yourself to work harder or “sit your butt in the chair” and get it done on some sort of timetable that you get to enforce and whip yourself over if you fail to reach goals. Well, you probably can, but you’re never going to get the results you truly want. You’ll end up forcing the characters or the story to go in an unnatural direction due to your own impatience and the story will slowly fizzle and die, or you’ll complete it but it will feel flat.

Focus on the relationship with your characters, not the daily writing!

In the meantime, I have completely moved away from having to write every day. It may work for others, but not for me. In my opinion, the characters are the nuts to crack if you want to write a good novel.

There is no one I know better than the characters in my stories. I love my characters! I laugh with them, cry with them, fight with them. No real person can ever give you this feeling of intimacy because we seldom open ourselves so thoroughly to one another. My characters give me this deep closeness because I allow them space. After all, they can confide in me - especially the antagonists, the supposedly bad guys in the story. I respect my characters, and they thank me for that with the most incredible ideas and plot twists that I could never have constructed myself.

Getting to know the characters takes time and patience. You can't expect to interview a real person with a character sheet and knowing everything about them afterwards either! Your characters will need a break. You will need breaks because the revelations of your characters also reveal your own deepest feelings and secrets. Writing, communicating with your characters is a disturbing but also therapeutic process.

That's why I give myself and my characters the time we need without fixed deadlines. I want to feel good when I go back to my manuscript. I want to be amazed by the revelations I have, sometimes even when I'm not at my desk at all.

Writing a novel can be one of the most amazing trips you've ever taken. In the end, you will have learned a lot about yourself. There's a reason this idea came to you of all people, why the characters picked you to write about them. Something connects you. You can only destroy this special connection if you force yourself to squeeze out something to write every day. And from my experience, just because you write every day, you are not finished with the novel sooner.

It took a while until I finally understood: Why go the path of torment - torture yourself every day with word goals and destroy all the joy of work - if I still don't get there any faster?

The journey is the goal is good advice for writing a novel. Enjoy it! And stop fighting yourself.

Anja, aka AS Renner, is the author of the novel City of Lies. She has a passion for people and their stories. As a writing coach, she supports creatives who got stuck. The subscribers to her newsletter are currently receiving the free eBook "Intuitive Writing. My Seven Steps to a Finished Novel."


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