Finish That Novel – Part II: Training to Reach “The End”

Finish That Novel: Training to Reach the End


Development is an endurance exercise with incremental improvements. ~  Sri Mulyani Indrawati


It’s come to my attention that quite a few novice novelists (say that five times fast) find themselves unable to finish their manuscripts. While there could be any number of reasons for this, ranging from a lack of self-discipline (completing a draft is w-o-r-k WORK, and not always the enjoyable kind) to overwhelming frustration as they approach the “muddy middle” and fear they don’t have enough ideas and/or enthusiasm to propel the story forward, the one I’d like to address today is one that faces just about anyone (excluding the prodigies among us…) who’s new to a particular skill.

Since I’m a CrossFit box[1] owner and a certified gym rat, it’s only natural that I use fitness as an example…

A while back, I trained a young woman who wanted to be able to run 400 meters without stopping. At the time, she could only run about 50 meters (164 feet) before slowing to a walk. Rather than having her try to run 400 meters every single day until she finally did it nonstop, I had her slowly build up her endurance by running a tiny bit farther each day. I’m talking a mere 10 to 20 meters farther. After a few weeks, she was able to run 400 meters (a quarter mile) without a problem, and from there she worked up to a full mile.

The same training philosophy applies to building muscular strength. Right now, for example, I’m coaching a weightlifting class in which one of the goals is to increase everyone’s deadlift. Instead of just telling them to try to max (reach a new all-time heavy weight) each training session, I have them work off of specific percentages of their previous max and perform a high number of repetitions to build their strength, as well their muscular stamina and endurance. I also program auxiliary movements that work weak areas of their deadlift and reinforce efficient, safe technique. Not until the end of the six-week lifting cycle will we retest their one-rep maxes and discover that there really was a method to my coaching madness ;-).

If you’re feeling discouraged because you can’t seem to finish your novel’s rough draft, then I encourage you to take a step back, take a deep breath, and develop a brand-new training plan. Keep “finish novel” as your long-term goal, but devise a short-term goal that will help carry you from Point A (unfinished draft) to Point B (finished draft ready for revisions). This goal could be anything writing-related that doesn’t consume too much of your time, i.e., doesn’t morph into a new novel! You could write a 300-word story every day for a week. Or publish three blog posts on three consecutive days. Or write a character sketch for each of your novel’s characters. You get the idea.

The key here is to start something…and finish it. Once you prove to yourself that you are indeed capable or reaching The End, you’ll have the confidence to once again face your novel and proceed to that satisfying third-act climax. Writing short stories is particularly helpful for quickly educating oneself on the importance of story structure, pacing, and the elimination of fluff and filler. Reading short stories is a fantastic exercise, too; you’ll see that the best short story writers ensure every word on every page serves a purpose and pulls the plot forward. I mention that last part because when the pacing is on point and the writing is tight and tidy, you’ll find you enjoy the writing process infinitely more – you feel like a reader caught up in the action, dying to see what happens next!

“Whatever it takes to finish things, finish. You will learn more from a glorious failure than you ever will from something you never finished.”
Neil Gaiman


I hope you found today’s tip helpful! Let me know in the comments below or tweet me @dandersontyler. I’d love to hear from you!


P.S.: If you’re interested in seeing my daily workouts and following along on my fitness journey, check out my fitness-related Instagram: writer_woman_!

[1] CrossFitters call CrossFit gyms “boxes” because of their old-school boxy, warehouse-like shape.

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