Why You Can’t Finish Your Novel

SAMSUNGSometimes we get sidetracked from our current writing project. A life crisis occurs, we get a promotion at our day job that includes more hours to be worked, or we get an idea for a new project that’s just begging to be written right now. These are all valid reasons for putting your novel on the shelf and planning to come back to it later. And these are not the reasons I’m addressing in this post. Instead, I’m talking about the situation where you’re halfway through, or three quarters, almost there…but you just can’t seem to pull through it. You feel blocked, congested, and hopeless when you think about your chances of ever having a completed manuscript to show anyone.

Why is this happening? You got this far, so why can’t you keep going? What’s stopping you?

It’s called Fear. Also known in some circles as Resistance.

Fear is a sneaky, snaky kind of operator, and it specializes in using your own voice to trick you. It wears dozens of different masks. But once you spot Fear at work and you know what you’re dealing with, your odds of dissolving it go up astronomically. When it comes to finishing your novel, you can recognize Fear in a few different costumes:

Perfectionism
In this guise Fear tells you that your writing isn’t good enough…yet. It promises that if you just revise a couple more times, and comb through every word again, you can make your novel perfect. What is Fear’s definition of “perfect”? Well, it never gets specific on that. It implies that it will be everything you ever dreamed, and no one in the entire world will have cause to criticize it, ever. Of course, reading this now you can see how irrational that is. But when Fear starts whispering the promises of the perfect in your ear, it’s much harder to resist.

Solution: Get to know the difference between “polished” and “perfect.” Polished is when you’ve given it your best effort and the end result is that you show it to someone—anyone. Perfect is like chasing the horizon. Polished is you moving forward. Perfect does nothing but hold you back.

Constant Comparison
We all have idols, and as writers our idols tend to be other writers. And when we first start writing, we tend to imitate those writer-idols we love the most. So when we read back over our work, it’s very easy to think, “This doesn’t sound half as funny as David Sedaris. I’m so lame.” Or, “Charles Bukowski managed to sound like an alcoholic and a profound poet, I just sound like an alcoholic.” The truth is, you are not David Sedaris or Charles Bukowski. You are not anyone else but YOU. And that’s actually totally cool. Because the world doesn’t need another David Sedaris or Charles Bukowski. It needs you.

Solution: Self-acceptance. You are what you are. That means you look like you, you act like you, and yup, you guessed it—you write like you. Write like yourself, and then set the goal to learn to like your own writing.

The Myth of Never-Been-Done-Before
Because our culture is filled with adoration for those who broke through those barriers of the never-been-done-before—Picasso, Beckett, Steve Jobs—we get obsessed with this notion that if something has been seen or done before, then it’s not worth creating something similar now. This is absolutely not true. Think about the character of Merlin. How may wizards have been based on him? For instance, Richard Harris played Dumbledore in the first Harry Potter and Ian McKellan played Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings. Can you picture either of those actors saying, “What?! Another wizard character? It’s so overdone! I won’t do it!” Of course not. Because no matter how many wizards show up in our stories, there is always room for one more. It’s the person behind the wizard—the writer or actor—who makes all the difference.

Solution: Google “archetypes” and see what comes up. Look into it. Seriously. You’ll see that everything has been done before. Just like the human body comes with two hands and ten fingers, it also comes with a human brain. We don’t think that differently from anyone else on earth. After you’ve studied up on archetypes, revisit your previous task of self-acceptance. Learn to love your own ideas simply because they came from you.

And lastly…

You’re Just Plain Scared
This one is the hardest, I think. There is no solution that makes you magically not scared anymore. I was so terrified of finishing my first novel that I kept writing, and writing, and writing…for months after I should have been done with it. When I finally wrapped it up, I’d written over 900 pages.

Do you know how difficult it is to find someone willing to read your 900-page attempt at a first novel?

I don’t regret doing things that way because I learned a lot. But later I saw that I let my fear hold me back. I was so scared that I wasn’t cut out to be a writer that I didn’t even give anyone the chance of being my first reader. And I still get scared. But the difference now is that I keep moving through the fear. I write that last chapter anyway and then hope for the best.

Solution: That saying really is true, you know. Feel the fear and do it anyway.

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