Whenever I visit schools, I tell students that anyone can be a writer–and I sincerely mean it. So I was especially excited to receive an email from a middle school student a few days after visiting her school. She said she was amazed by the chance to meet a published author (which made my heart melt a little) and that she’d like to be an author one day. But she was worried that she often lost enthusiasm for a book once she was a few scenes into it. She asked if I had any advice to help her keep up her excitement until she wrote those magic words: “THE END.”
Since this is a common problem no matter your age or experience level (it’s not just me, right?), I thought I’d share the advice I shared with her, in the hopes that it will help others, too:
I find it often helps to start with a character. Think about the kind of person you’d like to write about. What is that person’s greatest fear or worry? What kind of situation could you put them in that would make them have to deal with and overcome that fear or worry? How will they react? (Hint: they’ll probably resist a lot at first, before they learn what they need to know to face their fear or worry—and grow as a result.)
A lot of times (for me at least), the problem with sticking with a story is that I don’t know what should happen next. Or you might know how the story starts and ends, but you’re not sure what should happen in between. If this is the case, you might do some brainstorming before you start writing (or when you get stuck). Think about the worst thing that could happen to your character—and then make it happen to her (it sounds mean, I know, but you also get to figure out how your character solves the problem). Or maybe think about completely unexpected plot twists you could add. Or what about a quirky secondary character who might add another dimension to your story? You don’t necessarily have to plan out your whole novel (though you can!), but just jotting down some ideas can get you excited to keep going.
Instead of thinking of your writing as a huge, overwhelming project, break it down into scenes or shorter sections. Just try to write one scene at a time, and don’t worry about the rest while you write it.
Set goals for yourself. Maybe your goal is to write 100 or 500 or 1,000 words a day or to write for 15 or 30 or 60 minutes a day. Try to stick to your goals, even when you aren’t sure what to write (but don’t be too hard on yourself if some days you just can’t find time to write). Track how much you’ve written each day. Seeing your progress provides great motivation to keep going. You can create and track goals all year at nanowrimo.org (for adults) or https://ywp.nanowrimo.org/ (for students). Or a simple spreadsheet will do just as well.
Give yourself permission to write badly. That’s what first drafts are for. Try to turn off your inner editor (the voice that keeps telling you to change things) and just write. You can always make changes later—that’s what revising is for. Sometimes we worry so much about writing the “right” thing that we don’t write anything at all. If you really can’t figure out what to write, just spend a few minutes writing whatever comes to mind, even if it has nothing to do with the story. After a few minutes of free writing, let your mind shift to thinking about your story and see what comes out. Or go for a walk and let yourself daydream. I wrote a whole post about the benefits of daydreaming—and even some tips on how to do it. You can check that out here.
Promise yourself to stick with a story to the end. It’s so hard, I know! But once you finish one story, it will be so much easier to finish the next one, because you’ll know you can do it. You can even bribe yourself with the promise of a small reward (my favorite: chocolate, a bath, and a favorite book) for your accomplishment.
A few weeks after I sent the student these tips, she wrote back to say they were helping–she’d already written 15,000 words of a new novel. If she can do it—and if I can do it—then you can, too! Happy writing!
And once you're done with all that writing, I'd be happy to take a look to help you perfect your story. Check out my editorial services to learn more.