Keeping Your Novel on Track

No matter how busy your life, there always seem to be weeks or months where things decide to take themselves to the next level of crazy. In my case, several clients will send me manuscripts to read at the same time, contracts will hit my desk, I’ll have dove-tailing commitments to blog and judge contests and attend conferences, and some aspect of my personal life will rear its head demanding attention — baby shower, leaky sink, impending nervous breakdown… You get the idea. Generally the result is that something gets off track, small stuff falls through the cracks, and I wake up one morning unable to remember the last time I vacuumed my apartment.

Lulls seem to be a thing of the past these days, but the extreme craziness does eventually taper off, and then it’s time to regroup. I pull out old to-do lists to see what got pushed to the back burner, read through old emails to make sure nothing went unanswered, and set up a schedule that will let me keep track of new tasks while catching up with whatever else still lingers undone. It’s a great time to reassess, to see where I am, and to determine what I need to do in order to move forward.

The same goes for writing. It’s a rare project that lets you plow from first sentence to last with no distractions, no false starts, no wrong turns along the way, and if life happens to get a bit busy in the meantime, it’s quite easy to find your story veering off the rails. When writers complain they’ve gone off on a tangent or written themselves into a corner, there can be many reasons behind their issues, but such problems can be prevented or at least diverted before they get too serious if you make it a habit to stop every once in a while to take a look at your overall progress. If things have been a bit busy and you’ve missed a day or two of writing, if real life is making it difficult to focus, take a few minutes to scan your story and see if you’re headed in the right direction.

A few questions to ask yourself:

  • Is every scene necessary? Do they bring my protagonist closer to his/her goal or set up a new obstacle to be conquered?
  • Have I introduced any new characters? Were they planned? Are they serving a real purpose to the story?
  • Can I see my way from here to the next major event in the story? Can I see a way from here to the end of the story (generally if you’re in the second half of your WIP)?

Whether you are a meticulous plotter or someone who takes the story as it comes, it is important to have at least some idea where you want to go. The occasional check in, especially when life is impeding on your creative time, can help keep things on track and your novel flowing in the right direction. It doesn’t guarantee that you will never go off on a tangent — and sometimes tangents can be wonderfully inspiring things — but it can help keep you from drifting by too many thousands of words.

6 thoughts on “Keeping Your Novel on Track

  1. I’m recovering from a month of “crazy”. *Wades through laundry* I’m using your first question like a mad dog to wrap revisions. Another great post, Nephele. 🙂

    1. Thanks! I’m happy it was timely for you. (Good luck with the laundry; I’m still knee-deep in dust bunnies, myself.)

  2. I find these kinds of posts really helpful. I had to learn early on to cut scenes that were pretty but didn’t serve the overall story much, and found it useful to create a sort of checklist to evaluate the purpose of each scene, with criteria like the ones you listed. If a scene didn’t meet one of those qualifications (and I usually hoped it would meet at least two), it either got cut or revised to be relevant. It’s a useful practice, because even though I outline everything extensively before starting, tangents still happen.

    1. Thanks so much for the feedback! And yes, I know how difficult it can be to cut or revamp a lovely scene that’s not pulling its weight.

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