According to Real Science Fact, 103% of unfinished novels are discarded because the author loses confidence in the concept. And that's a real science fact. Promise.
I think working on a novel can be a little bit like being in a relationship: At first, it doesn't take any effort to love it and be excited about it, but when the infatuation phase passes and you start noticing the plot holes and tough scenes and flat characters, it can seem easier to give up than to push through. But if you don't push through, you'll just date guy after guy and never get serious and then you'll die alone. ...What were we talking about, again?
Meg Cabot once wrote in a NaNoWriMo pep talk, "I have a plastic milk crate crammed full of stories I started and never finished because I cheated on them, then got so enamored of my new story, I never went back to the old one. Over and over and over again. And that, my friends, is how you never finish a book."
But you don't need me to tell you what the problem is. What we don't know is the solution. And I'm not claiming that I have one, but I do have an idea.
Are you just starting a project now? Perfect. This is the time when the idea you're developing has a shiny, golden halo around it. It's the perfect idea. Nothing could go wrong. Goddamn, this idea is so good. You can't wait until it gets optioned for a movie.
That feeling? It's going to disappear. It's going to disappear when you hit your first difficult scene, when you reread your first chapter, when you realize you've bitten off more than you think you can chew, when your love interests get together on page six and all the tension is gone ... it can happen at any moment. What separates the writers who finish novels from the writers who don't is the ability to keep going, even when that glow is gone.
But that doesn't mean you need to be some sort of natural prodigy. Whatever helps you stay motivated is fair game. No one's saying you can't use tools to succeed. Here's a tool I've come up with, which other people have probably come up with before: a love letter to your novel.
Here's how it works: When you're in that warm, fuzzy, initial phase of writing, capture it. Lock that moment in ink (or... pixels, or whatever) so that when you start to doubt yourself, you can go back and remember why you were so excited. Don't worry about going overboard, here: There's no such thing as too much love for a letter like this. Write down everything, from your excitement about the complexities of the message to your joy over picking the perfect name for your main character's dog.
Okay, have you spilled out all your enthusiasm onto a page somewhere? Good. Now put it somewhere you can find it. I like my desktop, since it's pretty empty otherwise. Makes it seem important. Now, leave it be. Go work on your beautiful novel while it's still perfect.
how to use it
Aw, shit. It's happening. Maybe this novel wasn't such a good idea after all. Should you change your main character from a 17-year-old transgender centaur into a 60-year-old blind ex-con? Maybe you should cut the first sixteen thousand words. Or maybe you should just give up.
Stop! It's time to bust out that love letter! I suggest treating it pretty ritualistically. Make sure you have a calm, quiet space to read it in, and time to devote to it. Put your phone on silent and close Facebook (no, don't just minimize it, it still makes those little "boop" sounds). Now read it. And if you have to, read it again. Get yourself back into that mindset you were in before. Connect with your past self, the self that wrote all this, driven by creative passion.
I'm not saying this will put you right back at emotional square one and let you power through another twenty thousand words without doubt or fear. But what I do think will happen is that you will remember that even though there are problems with your book, there's a lot that's great about it, too. The potential this piece has is far more beautiful than the ungainly mess you're working with now.
And better yet, reading what made you so excited about it in the first place might help guide you out of where you're currently floundering. Are you still doing what you thought you were going to do? Does your story still have all the factors that initially appealed to you? Chances are that what makes you psyched about your book will also make readers psyched, so try not to lose those aspects.
Look, there's a reason you started writing this thing. It's easy to lose track of that when you run into plot-related snarls, but every author hits those roadblocks. Fear and self-doubt are natural, common parts of the writing process, but although you can acknowledge that, you can't let them stop you from writing. So tuck that love letter into your sock drawer and pull it out when you're scared. You guys can make it work!
What do you do when you start doubting your writing? Tell me your tips and tricks in the comments!