Survival Tips for Writing a Novel

What would you put in a survival kit? The Red Cross has a list of suggested items on their website. Writers may never face a natural disaster, but writing challenges can threaten the life of their current projects or even their careers. Here is a list of tips that will help you cope with any writing emergency.

Time is a writer’s water.

Water is essential for human life. What element is most essential for a novel writer? Time. The best ideas and most amazing turns of phrase need to make the journey from your mind to the page. If you don’t take the time to write, you will never be an author.

Making the time to write is easier said than done. Many would-be novelists have a day job or other responsibilities that absorb much of their attention. Others face distractions as they work from a home office. How can you carve out time to write from your busy schedule?

Here’s a tip: Write before you do anything else. Putting the coffee pot on is allowed. After that, go straight from your bed to your computer or notepad. If you allow the day to start any other way, you risk being distracted from your goal. Imagine your day if you read emails first. Wouldn’t you be tempted to answer them? Sitting at your computer, you might next decide to finish a project, see what’s new on Youtube, or play a quick game of Spider Solitaire. Don’t do it! Wake up and write. It doesn’t have to be for long—fifteen minutes, an hour, or until you reach the end of a chapter. It’s up to you how much time you spend, but every minute you devote to the task will get you closer to the final word count.

Inspiration is a writer’s food.

Food gives your body the energy it needs to accomplish things. If the premise of your novel doesn’t inspire you, you will not be very motivated to write on a regular basis. Worse yet, your lack of inspiration might translate into your prose. What fuels your imagination? Some people love to travel; others respond to the group synergy created in writing groups. Do whatever makes you energized to continue toward your goal.

Here’s a tip: Let your mind run free. Freewriting is a great way to spark your creativity. It’s easy to do. Just write anything! You can do a pure freewriting session where you write any thought that passes through your head. If you like things more structured, you can use a writing prompt. The key to this method is not to judge what you write. You might get a brilliant idea; you might not. The value is how the process feeds your imagination.

Friends and colleagues are a writer’s medications and a first aid kit.

Every writer has weaknesses. These are like pre-existing medical conditions that you treat with medication. One way to know if you have a persistent frailty is to get feedback on your writing from colleagues and friends. You can address your issues in writing classes or by completing writing exercises.

Unexpected injuries can often occur in a disaster situation. The Red Cross encourages keeping a well-stocked first aid kit with your survival kit. Even accomplished writers experience unexpected difficulties that affect their ability to write. Traumatic life events or changing work conditions can create writer’s block.

Here’s a tip: Try clustering to unblock. Clustering is a strategy developed by Dr. Gabriele Rico. The simple process taps into the natural way that the human brain functions. First, write a word or phrase in the center of a blank page. This core concept is the nucleus. Circle it. Then, write down and circle any words that come to mind around the nucleus. Connect them to the nucleus with lines. You can shift your attention to each of the newly circled words, making them nuclei. Keep expanding and you’ll find that you can create large clusters of words. If you start with a word derived from your novel’s characters, setting, plot, or theme, your cluster can propel you out of writer’s block.

Experience is a writer’s personal documentation.

The final item is one that people often omit from their disaster packs, yet it is one of the most important. Personal documents can help identify you and your family members during a disaster. You might need these items for your insurance policy, to obtain aid, or to prove your identity.

Some fans can identify a book by their favorite author from its first few pages. You see, novels aren’t just about the story. Writers pull from their life experiences and play to their writing strengths. For example, John Grisham, who is an attorney, draws on his law expertise in his best-selling legal thrillers. Oscar Wilde exploited his talent for creating biting witticisms. John Updike was an expert at metaphors.

Here’s a tip: Exploit your strengths. Read over your old manuscripts. Do they seem like they were written by the same person or by multiple authors? If your writing portfolio seems fractured, go through your writing with the intent of finding your strengths. Take your best attributes and make sure they shine in your current project.

Also, think about your life experiences and knowledge. Can you use your understanding of a topic to round out a character’s interests? Can you use your travel memories or research to add dimension to a setting? The more you engage with your novel, the more genuine it will become.

Are you currently writing or planning to write a novel? Prepare yourself for a difficult journey. The goal is not to start a novel, but to finish it. By equipping yourself to cope with adversity, you will ensure that you can endure whatever problem comes your way.

Your writing, at its best.
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