Dear Thrive: I Started My Novel, But Now I Can’t Finish It

Welcome to Thrive! A weekly advice column for creatives and the generally confused.

Dear Thrive,
Last year I started a novel, and I’m stuck halfway through. I love where it’s going, but don’t know how to get started again. Help!!

Novel Idea

Dear Novel Idea,
Congratulations on even getting started. I always make it a point to congratulate my readers on their work. I don’t think you realize how amazing it is that you’ve even started! It sounds like you’ve hit a little speed bump in your writing process and I know that’s a total pain. Once you fall off your routine it can be hard to get back on.

The best thing you can do is remember the thrill you had when you were putting your first words down–before anyone had read any pages and when the story didn’t need an arc, or specific character development. Do you remember that time? Good! Get back there. Do your best to pretend that no one is going to read this next chapter and just write. Chances are you’ve read the first half of your novel now so many times through (because you couldn’t move forward writing it) that you only see errors and plot holes and messes to clean up later. That’s okay. Say it with me now, that’s okay. Because you’re going to fix those later. Right now, you need to let your characters back out to stretch their legs, to get their voices back in your head. Write a freebie chapter. It doesn’t even need to be the next chapter in the order of the story. Pick a place that excites you (The big reveal? The resolution?) and start there. Give your characters something exciting to deal with and fill in the rest later.

If you’re still having trouble, go somewhere to write where other people are working. I know our own homes and coffee shops are easiest to get to, but going to a writer’s room or a studio or your local library will get you to focus in a new way. You won’t be eavesdropping on the bad date next to you (I do this all the time) or wondering what your roommate is doing down the hall. Being surrounded by people who are working diligently will make you work diligently too. With few distractions (make sure you turn off your phone!) you’ll be forced to focus.

Also do not give up! Sometimes we just need a break from our stories and our characters. I’ve heard of authors taking off a year or more in between. It’s natural to do this. And if you can’t get things flowing even after trying the tips I’ve suggested, start a new, smaller project (a short story for Halloween maybe?) and see where it takes you. You may just gain some perspective on your current novel.

Good luck!

THRIVE is answered by Amanda Kusek, a poet, blogger, and dog mom living in NYC.

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