GYWO is Get Your Words Out, a wonderful writing accountability community. I joined this year and I’m really enjoying it. I wrote this post for the GYWO community, and the moderators have kindly allowed me to mirror it on Story Hospital. My last GYWO post was on why every writer needs a style guide.
The suggested topic for this post was “Plotting Out and Writing Long Things Without Losing Interest” but I want to write more broadly about staying interested in long works, because sometimes plotting them out is antithetical to keeping the momentum going.
If you have trouble staying hooked on your longer projects, take a step back and think about what you find interesting about writing. Leaning into that can help keep you engaged.
Do you write in order to find out what happens next? DON’T plot more than a little bit ahead. Even if you’re much more of a plotter than a pantser, give yourself teasers, not spoilers. Intentionally leave gaps in your outline: “DRAMATIC EVENT HAPPENS HERE.” Otherwise you put all the fun parts into the outlining, and the writing feels like drudgery.
Do you love the feeling of puzzle pieces slotting into place? DO outline. Outline chapter by chapter or even scene by scene. Then write to the outline, like you’re being paid to ghostwrite and the outline is the client. Feel those scenes and chapters link up, click click click, and watch them build a beautiful structure that teeters and wobbles until you add the capstone and suddenly it’s strong and stable. Don’t worry about the big picture; set small writing goals of turning a little more of your outline into prose, and let the outline take care of the rest.
Do you mostly want to spend time with your characters? Make sure the ones you like best are at the forefront of your story. If your protagonist is boring and a side character is the one who’s won your heart, make the side character the protagonist and watch a whole new story unfold. If a section feels slow, spice it up with your characters’ interpersonal interactions or personal discoveries. Make sure the stakes are high enough; that doesn’t have to mean the world is going to end, but it does mean your characters need a reason to care about what happens, so that you have a reason to care about what happens.
Do you write for the pleasure of crafting gorgeous sentences? Outline the plot, bang out a rough draft as fast as you can, and then lose yourself in the joys of revising and polishing and expanding every part of that draft until it’s a collection of gleaming jewels. Maybe the first draft of your novel is only a few thousand words; that’s fine. What matters is giving yourself some clay to sculpt.
Do you crave feedback? Find a friend who’s willing to look at each chapter as it’s written or keep an eye on your word count spreadsheet and cheer you on whenever you approach a milestone. Don’t ask for beta reading or critiquing; you need encouragement and fuel. Once you have a draft, you can ask for critiques of the draft. Until then, that friend is the person staffing the water stations along your marathon route, yelling “YOU CAN DO IT” or sending you the equivalent texts full of exclamation points and emoji.
Do you need novelty to stay excited? Set a concrete goal (not just “write a novel” but “write 100,000 words”) and write a short statement about why this goal is personally meaningful for you, so you can come back to that meaning again and again. Keep your chapters short, or write collections of linked stories rather than standard novels. Change POVs and settings as you need to. Write two books at once, alternating between them to scratch the novelty itch, and have a text file where you put all the shiny new ideas that threaten to distract you. Some advance planning and outlining, or five minutes of “what will I write today” at the start of each writing session, will help you stay on track.
Do you feel soothed and satisfied by processes and metrics? Create writing routines: the same place, the same time of day. Set your GYWO spreadsheet as one of the tabs you see whenever you open your browser. Compete against your own average daily wordcount. Talk shop with other writers and let it invigorate your writing.
And, as always, take care of yourself and set yourself up to succeed. You’ll have a much easier time staying focused and engaged if you’re eating and sleeping enough, hydrated, in a comfortable place without distractions, listening to music you love, and so on. If disability or life events often force breaks in your writing routine, end each writing session with a few notes about what you want to write next time, to make it easier to pick up where you left off. And if you haven’t written long projects before, work up to them as slowly as you need to
What’s your favorite part of writing? How do you make use of that to carry you through the times when you feel stuck or bored or not sure where to go next?