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December 27, 2011

Wendy DelSol on How to Finish that Novel!

Posted by Katherine


Wendy Delsol is the author of three young adult novels: STORK, FROST, and the upcoming TIDE (Candlewick Press). The trilogy is inspired by Norse mythology and has paranormal and romance elements. She also writes for adults. THE MCCLOUD HOME FOR WAYWARD GIRLS was named a Barnes and Noble Pick of the Week. Wendy lives in Des Moines with her husband and two teenage boys. Here she talks about how she organizes and motivates herself while writing.


Crisp new calendar pages feel like a mandate for some form of a fresh start. And maybe 2012 is the year that a visitor, or two, to this site makes good on a writing-related resolution. With this in mind, I thought I’d share a few of my tricks for getting to The End of a novel-length project.

The 500-a-day Goal.

Most novels come in between 65,000 and 100,000 words. Bloodcurdling , right? So forget I even mentioned such overwhelming figures. Focus, instead, on writing 500 words a day, 5 days a week. I strongly believe in manageable goals. Some days, I’m just not sure that I --- or my work in progress --- are up to the task. Thus, all I ask of myself on a daily basis is to get 500 words down on paper. And when I do (notice I didn’t say if), I take a moment to congratulate myself. Finishing each day on a positive note and with a sense of accomplishment builds confidence and momentum.

Credit and Debit

Not every day will be a 500-word day. Some will be less, and many glorious others will be more. Use this to your advantage and create a tracking system. On those days when the words are coming fast and furious and you exceed --- doubling, tripling or even quadrupling your goal --- put the excess in the bank. Alternately, on those occasions --- and there will be many --- when life throws in a few distractions, use your saved words. With the state of mind that the project is still on track, there can still be a sense of victory on a non-writing day.

Accept Consequences

Yep, many a Saturday or Sunday I play catch up. Working the weekend is the price I pay for not making goal during the week. My critique partners have dubbed me il commandant. I’ll admit a kind of aversion to the term but concede that it does accurately reflect my discipline. (And is partly to do with my on-task approach to submissions and meetings, but that’s another post entirely.)

Build Expectations

Tell someone about your goal. Better still, tell someone important about your goal. Someone you want to impress. Because a little outside pressure can make a difference. For years, my Christmas letter said something along the lines of “still not published.” I cringed every time I had to type it, but it also made failure that much more unpleasant.

The above can be adapted to whatever phase of the writing process you’re in: query writing, editing, etc. The point is to set manageable goals and to develop a flexible system for staying the course.

Best of luck to all the writers out there from one happily in the trenches. I’m about 15,000 words into my most recent project. December is my toughest writing month. There are just too many holiday distractions. (Guess who’s probably working this weekend?) So, here’s to finding the fuel to reach your goals. Now get to work. Or I’ll see you in Sunday detention J