Most writers never see novel burnout coming. The spark of a new novel idea is a lot like having a crush. At first, everything is fresh and exciting. You can’t wait to start putting pen to paper and bringing the words in your head to life. Even seemingly mundane things like developing a writing routine and outlining a plot seem novel and fun.
But routine inevitably sets in, the honeymoon phase ends, and you’re left to face the reality that writing a novel is hard work. Don’t get us wrong; you still love your story. But it’s just as easy to fall out of love with the creative process as it is to fall in. Once that initial rush of motivation fades, keeping the flame alive is a struggle.
And guess what? That’s totally normal.
Writing a novel requires a lot of sustained effort, and it’s only natural for your enthusiasm to dip. Even the most passionate writers experience burnout, but pushing past the slump is the difference between a completed novel you’re proud of and an unfinished one collecting dust on your virtual shelf.
So if you’re in need of a bit of motivation, here are five tips that can help you stay the course and finish that first draft.
Novel Burnout Prevention Tip #1: Motivation isn’t Passion
Often we make the mistake of confusing motivation for passion. We think passion alone for our idea and craft should be enough to keep the words flowing. But that’s rarely the case.
Motivation is a mental state of being, whereas passion is an emotional one. While passion is important, it’s not enough. You have to actively nurture the mental part of motivation through planning, organization, and, most of all, consistency. A combination of desire and discipline, motivation is the commitment to keep building the momentum towards your goals—especially when you don’t feel like it.
So don’t waste another moment believing that you don’t have the passion, drive, or inspiration to get your story written. Believe that you have the discipline and commitment to make it happen, even when it’s hard.
Novel Burnout Prevention Tip #2: Set Hilariously Small Goals
What is the easiest hack for keeping momentum? Make your goals so achievable that setting them feels downright silly.
This tip comes from James Clear’s stellar book Atomic Habits. Essentially, he says that one of the primary reasons we fail to stick with the good habits we set is that we make them too big. We go from zero to a hundred overnight and wonder why we can’t sustain that energy level for the long haul.
It’s far more effective to set small goals that are easier to reach. For example, if writing 500 words a day is too much, try writing five. Yep, just five words. Stick with it for a week, and then double it. The idea is to gradually increase the length of your writing sessions over time, but in increments so tiny that they feel more than doable.
Here are a few other hilariously small daily goals you can set:
- Writing for one minute straight.
- Typing one sentence.
- Reading one page of a creative writing book.
Novel Burnout Prevention Tip #3: Habit Stack Your Writing Ritual
Habit stacking—another method from Clear—is the practice of pairing a new habit with an existing one. Instead of trying to make time in your day for a completely new activity, link it to something you’re already doing and let the momentum take you there.
Write down the things you do every single day without fail. Simple tasks like brushing your teeth or watching your favorite show after dinner. Once you’ve got your list, pick one activity to trigger your writing habit.
Say you like reading while drinking your coffee in the morning. Simply attach the goal of writing for 5 minutes to that activity. So after you finish your chapter, you pull out your computer and write for 5 minutes, no excuses. Link your writing habit to something you already do every day, and watch how easy it is to form a new routine.
Novel Burnout Prevention Tip #5: Write Now & Edit Later
Editing and writing are two totally separate processes. We waste a lot of time trying to write the perfect sentence when—in all honesty—it doesn’t matter if your first draft is good or bad. All that matters is that you’re putting words on the page.
Instead of agonizing over each sentence and paragraph, try writing with abandon. Decide that you will only consider reading or tweaking your work once the first draft is complete. This approach will help you focus on generating ideas and getting your story down in its rawest form.
The editing can come later. After all, it’s not a finished draft until you say so.
Novel Burnout Prevention Tip #5: Don’t Keep Your Novel a Secret
In the solitary world of writing, it’s natural for authors to develop a sort of guardianship over their creations. The stories we weave are extensions of ourselves, brimming with our ideas, feelings, and experiences. They are personal and profound, making us vulnerable. Thus, we may shield them from the eyes of others until they’re meticulously polished and free of any perceived flaws. However, this protection can paradoxically obstruct your progress and dampen your motivation.
Every novel starts as a raw, unpolished gem, and the fear of judgment may prevent us from sharing these initial drafts, leaving us isolated with our doubts and self-criticism. This is especially true when motivation begins to wane. The hurdles seem more daunting when we’re alone, making it too easy to consider abandoning our work.
Yet, imagine if we change the narrative. What if, instead of keeping your novel a secret, you share it with a select circle of trusted friends and family members? This might initially feel uncomfortable or risky, but sharing your work can be a powerful motivational tool.
Having someone else aware of your project invests them in your journey. They become your cheerleaders, providing support and encouragement, alleviating the sense of loneliness that often accompanies the writing process. They’re there to celebrate your victories, however small and offer comfort during challenging periods.
Moreover, feedback from these early readers can provide fresh perspectives, helping you with character inconsistencies and plot holes you might have overlooked.
Therefore, resist the urge to shroud your work in secrecy. Embrace the vulnerability that comes with sharing your initial drafts. It’s a courageous act that can make a world of difference in maintaining your motivation and advancing your writing journey. Remember, the goal is progress, not perfection. Let your trusted circle be part of your progress, supporting and guiding you as you transform your unpolished gem into a beautiful, finished novel.
It happens. One day you’re on fire, and the next, you can’t seem to string a single sentence together.
If you find yourself stuck in a motivation rut, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Expand your circle, don’t contract it. Find out what others have found helpful.
PDHines Editing offers authentic story development and book coaching services designed to help you stay on track and write a story you’re proud of. By combining creative guidance with practical advice, we’ll help you keep the flame alive until your novel is finished.