The Trick to Finishing Your Novel
Deadlines. No one likes them. I have just about as much enthusiasm for them as Douglas Adams did when he wrote the passage, “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.”
When I'm nearing a deadline I have a constant, unbearable tightness in my chest, the same feeling I get when there's an impending visit from my mother-in-law. Now, that's saying something. But, as awful as these feelings are, deadlines can be a helpful way to keep your writing on track. Want to finish that novel you've been working on for ten years? How about that short story you just can't seem to find the time for? When there's a deadline, you'll find the time.
This is my process when I'm laying out new deadlines for the month:
1. I make a calendar that I can hang up in the kitchen/living room area (since that is where I spend most of the day.) It doesn't have to be pretty. I usually make mine out of a piece of colored paper and then draw a grid on it with permanent marker and mark the days of the month on it. If you don't want to make your own you can buy a wall calendar. I like the dry erase one's.
2. At the beginning of each month I take my calendar off the wall and think about the short term goals I want to complete in that month. My short term goals usually consist of finishing short stories, reading a book, etc. I write these down on a scrape piece of paper with some space in between each goal. The space in between is reserved for the deadlines that lead up to the completion of your goals.
3. Make your deadlines reasonable and make sure they don't conflict with other events in your life, holidays, birthdays, etc. You want to make sure there is nothing holding you back from meeting your deadlines. So, back to the space in between your short-term goals: keeping all of these things in mind, create a series of deadlines for each short term goal for that month that will allow you to meet those goals sometimes during the last week of the month. Here's an example of week 1:
Monday: Complete world building questionnaire for short story
Wednesday: Outline short story
Friday: Read up through chapter 5 in Brave New World
Saturday: Stevie's birthday-none
4. Once you have your deadlines written down, write them on your calendar.
5. I then think about my long term goals which involve finishing novels, novella's, or building an author following on the web, stuff like that. I keep a planner in a drawer in my kitchen with all of my long term goal deadlines in it. You can either do that or buy a year long wall calendar and write your long term goals in there. I like to use the one month wall calendar because it helps me focus more on the here and now and frankly, I freak out less. When all of my huge goals stare up at me shouting “Hey, why haven't you finished me yet!,” it's daunting to say the least. I feel small, exhausted, anxious, if I'm always thinking about the big picture. Having one month layed out in front of me makes things much easier to handle both physically and emotionally.
Again, on a scrape piece of paper write out small deadlines that you need to meet in order to get you closer to meeting that long term goal. If your goal is to complete a novel by the end of the year then maybe some of your short term goals for the month can be outlining your novel, completing character bio's, finishing a world building questionnaire or research Irish folklore (or whatever you need to research for your story.)
6. Write down the deadlines for your long term goals on your calendar.
Hurray! You've completed your deadline goals for the month! Now, and this is important, just breathe. You are a busy little writer with much to do, but you have just broken it down into achievable deadlines for the month that will make your life much easier. Less stress, less worry, less clutter in your brain.
I hope you can make good use out of this idea. There is a catch though. In order for this to work you need to stick to the deadlines you make for yourself. No cheating. No excuses. Period. I know you can do this. If you are passionate about your story and want the world to read it, then you will meet your deadlines. Good luck and happy writing!