Writing The Novel: Staying Sane While Writing A Novel

Stack of books at the Strand Bookstore in Union Square, Manhattan.

Stack of books at the Strand Bookstore in Union Square, Manhattan.

One of the things that I learned while working on my debut novel was how to cope with the anxiety and rushes of adrenaline most writers experience while writing.

Initially, I found it overwhelming.  I had always gotten an adrenaline rush whenever I began writing, it was an exhilarating feeling that I welcomed because writing for me has always been an escape from reality and a journey or adventure that I embraced.

When I committed to writing my book series, knowing that I had a goal of publishing at some point in the future, I found that the additional pressure of this affected how I felt about my writing.  I began to procrastinate or over-compensate with perfectionism.

All of this was a reaction to my fears and insecurities about my writing and sharing my writing with the world. And yes, there is a difference in writing for yourself and writing with the intention of publication.  It is sometimes hard to articulate what this difference is because it is purely emotional and may not seem logical to non-writers---but it is real.

Though the several years I took to write my novel, I found the following things helped me to stay sane:

  1. Keeping a journal for each major writing project. I found that writing about my feelings/concerns/questions/ideas about the project while writing it helped me to address them and work through them and get past them. In the beginning I found that I had to journal every day or at least before each writing session. Eventually, as I became more confident in the writing the series, I found that I didn't need to journal as much.

  2. Studying the craft helped to improve my writing skills. Whether it was reading and studying the works of my favorite authors or actual books on the craft of writing, I found inspiration in this and also learned a few new tricks that helped enhance my writing. I discovered through hard work and practice, that the more I knew as a writer, the better my writing experience was and the more confident I felt about my writing.

  3. Writing a detailed outline and maintaining an organized file of notes, thoughts and ideas about the writing project. Initially, I wasn't very organized. I wrote down notes wherever and whenever they came to me. Anything that I saw that inspired me or thought about in terms of character or plot ideas. I would tuck away these notes into an accordion file to be addressed at some later unknown date. Clearly, I didn't truly understand how much of a project writing my novel would be nor did I understand how important it was to be organized. I think that I read about other writers who wrote freely and without an outline and did not realize that this would not work for me. LOL. Only through trial and error did I realize how necessary and how helpful it was to be organized while working on a major project. I also learned how important and helpful it was to carry a real Writing Notebook with me everywhere. It's much easier to flip through a notebook than infinite scraps of paper. LOL.

  4. Keep a good selection of Writer's Reference books and guides nearby. In addition to a good Dictionary and Thesaurus, I found that I benefited from having access to other resource guides that I've collected over the years; these include name dictionaries and other resource guides.

  5. Embrace the solitude. Writing is lonely business. It's about the hunkering down and getting to the work. Writing groups can be helpful but nothing beats the time you spend writing alone. I find that I enjoy listening to music or having the television playing sports in the background to reduce the "silence." I especially love to write while watching/listening to a good football or basketball game in the background.

  6. Embrace the struggle. Writing is hard work. It's also exhilarating when the writing flows. When the writing doesn't flow it means that I'm missing something and must figure out what that is or I have to work harder to convey the words that I'm feeling within my heart. I've learned to shell a lot of my perfectionism when it comes to writing. I've learned to embrace this beautiful struggle.

  7. Be secretive about your project when you begin working on it. I found it best to not talk about my project until I was nearly done. I found that when I did speak to people about it, I was looked at strangely for being "some elusive writer," bombarded with questions about the book and its plot or bombarded with suggestions for my book without having a clear idea on what my book was about or where I planned on going with the story. I found it easier not to speak about it until I was nearly finished and when I had a "tag line" (a one-sentence summary) already prepared. Soon, the questions changed to "Well, when is it coming out?" and "What is taking so long to release it?" (And dealing with that is a whole other blog entry.)

I discovered all of this over time and through my process of writing.  Experience is oftentimes the best (and often the most cruel) teacher.  Your experience as a writer or artist may be different from mine.  Every writer is different and some of these tips and suggestions may nor may not work for you. 

The main thing that I want my fellow writers and artists to know is that there are no rules, everyone has an opinion about your work---good and bad, and to not let anything get in the way of you and your art.  You have an awesome story to tell (or a creative project) to share with the world.  Do not let anything stop you, not even life or those crazy, nagging, critical thoughts inside your head.

It took me some time to push through and come out on the other side.  I had to battle the demons of procrastination, perfectionism, criticism and the valleys of everyday life.  But I'm here and I'm doing it and most importantly, I want others to do the same.

All the best,

Naj