Writing isn’t just an expression of creativity—it’s also a crash course in making quick decisions.
Where does your story take place? What is your protagonist’s motivation? What color eyes do they have? Writers have to make decision after decision when penning a novel, and it’s all too easy to get stuck in indecisive limbo. Cultivating your decision-making skills is key to keeping your story moving along. If you can’t make a choice, you’ll only prolong your dream of being published.
“Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”E. L. Doctorow
As a book coach and editor, most writers I work with feel stuck in their stories. No matter what has them held up, I like to remind them of this quote from E.L. Doctorow: “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
If you’re having trouble making decisions in your writing, here are five tips to help you get over the hump.
Tip #1: You Can’t Edit A Blank Page
No matter how experienced you are, the first words are always the hardest. Once you take a deep breath and get the ball rolling, the process becomes much easier. Don’t worry about the details or getting it “right” just yet; your goal is to keep writing until you reach the end of your draft.
If you find yourself really stuck, try setting aside a timer for 15 to 25 minutes and use that time to write nonstop. Don’t judge any typos or errors—just keep writing until the timer goes off. You can always go back and fix things later.
Tip #2: Know That You Can’t Get It Wrong
There is no “right” way to write a novel. Everyone’s process is different, and if you’re new to the craft, it’ll take a few drafts before you find your rhythm. You can always turn to story gurus and teachers for guidance if following an already laid-out method is what will help you best.
Remember that you don’t have to follow their advice perfectly. Ultimately, writing a novel is a creative project and, therefore, should be approached with total freedom.
Tip #3: Eat The Elephant
Bill Hogan’s classic productivity book How Do You Eat An Elephant? One Bite At A Time! still rings true today. Don’t overwhelm yourself by thinking about the novel as a whole. Instead, break it down into smaller sections and tackle the parts. Focus on taking one sentence, one paragraph, and one page at a time.
Setting a page or word count goal each day helps you stay on track. By chunking the story into manageable pieces, you’re less likely to get overwhelmed.
Tip #4: Don’t Forget The Destination
Getting caught up in tangents and details is easy when you’re deep in the novel writing process. While the little pieces matter, always keep the main story in mind. If your character is starting to take a detour, ask yourself why and decide if it’s really necessary. Stay in tune with your main destination and motivations to keep the plot on track.
Tip #5: There’s No Such Thing As A Perfect First Draft
The best novel writing tip? Just finish it. Stressing yourself out on getting it right the first time is a surefire way to impede your progress. Perfectionism will only keep you from crossing the finish line, and ultimately, it won’t make that much difference in the end.
“The process of writing your second draft is making it look like you knew what you were doing all along.”Neil Gaiman
If you find yourself struggling to move forward, remember this quote from Neil Gaiman: “The process of writing your second draft is making it look like you knew what you were doing all along.”
Don’t Get Stuck In Story Purgatory
At the end of the day, making better writing decisions comes down to trusting yourself and letting go of perfectionism. Get comfortable with uncertainty and be patient with the process. You’ll find that once you get a handle on making better writing decisions, the story will flow with much more ease.