I’d like to think I have sufficient experience when it comes to the emotional highs and lows of writing a novel. I have written two novels and a novella to completion, abandoned six works-in-progress, and as of writing this post, have written the first quarter of one novel and edited half of another.
Each project has its moments, both good and bad. There are days I love what I’m writing, and there are days I absolutely hate the book and every word in it.
That’s just the nature of novel writing, I think.
When I first start writing a new story, there’s this brazen excitement, a hopeful optimism that cannot be contained. I’m in love with the words, the act of writing, the sensation of creating. Characters and worlds spawn into being by the power of my fingertips, things that once existed only in my imagination quickly made real by the act of tapping my fingers against the keyboard. It’s all quite exhilarating.
Every novel I write begins this way, regardless of whether it’s been brewing in my head for days or weeks or months, or if it’s been plotted or only vaguely thought of. No matter the genre or setting or characters, every single story starts the same—with that unbridled excitement, that unmatched passion for creating something new.
But eventually, I reach a point in the story where that initial positive energy begins to wane—and this is admittedly weird, because it happens with every single novel I write—at 20,000 words.
My creativity peters out. Motivation wanders off. Doubt creeps in.
The story stops flowing.
It’s happened before. It’ll happen again.
I just have to face it.
I know that if I keep writing, I’ll eventually find that font of creativity again. I’ve done this enough times now to know it. The trick is finding enough motivation to try to get past the next milestone in my process—again, weirdly consistent—26,000 words.
Of all the first drafts that I have abandoned over the years, not one has reached beyond 26,000 words. I don’t know why, but it’s the life-or-death, make-or-break moment of every story I write.
When I hit that first lull at 20,000 words, I often look at my story and wonder if I really have what it takes to keep it going. I have to decide for myself if I want to keep going, if the story is something I really want to invest another 60-, 80-, or even 100,000 words into. And either I find the confidence or the motivation or the inspiration to continue writing—or I don’t.
Sometimes, I fail.
Somewhere between 20,000 and 26,000 words, I decide that the story isn’t what I thought it was after all, that maybe I don’t have the skill to pull it off just yet, or maybe I messed something up somewhere—a bad plot point, a misplaced character, an underdeveloped world—some mistake that can’t be ignored. It quickly becomes apparent that continuing to write the story would be a complete waste of time. And so I quit.
Sometimes, you just have to cut your losses and move on.
But not always.
I haven’t completed two novels and a novella for nothing.
If I can make it beyond that 26,000-word milestone, I’m going to finish the novel—guaranteed. Whatever doubts, whatever insecurities I might have harbored at 20,000 words, are buried beneath a fresh wave of confidence. Somewhere in that last 6,000 words, I decide that this is a story worth finishing, whatever may come in the process, and from that moment forward, it’s a rush to the final page, driven by my desire to finally write The End.
And so the first draft goes.
Some days are difficult. Some days the words flow easily. But bit by bit, the story comes together, and eventually, I have a completed first draft.
And there’s nothing quite like writing The End.
That moment is at the tippy-top of writer highs, the peak of the rollercoaster ride that is writing a novel. And while it’s an exhilarating moment, filled with giddy giggles and happy tears, the fact that it’s the peak means that, unfortunately, the rest of the journey is all downhill from there.
Writing a first draft is an exercise in creativity and production.
Editing that first draft is the opposite. It’s a beastly task, taking all those inspired scenes and productive writing days, and jamming them through a trash compacter of doom—grinding, chopping, smashing, and incinerating every little piece of the novel that I once loved until all I have left is a smattering of words that now have to be put back together.
Truthfully, it wasn’t always so agonizing.
But the more I learn, the harder I am on my writing.
Good enough isn’t actually good enough anymore, though it was once upon a time. Unfortunately for me, I’m not content with publishing a good story; I want to be great. And so I push myself to be better, often to the detriment of my sanity, sometimes forcing myself to the brink of giving up because I wonder if I could possibly ever actually be great.
Editing brings out the worst of my doubts, all those insecurities that arose at that first hurdle at 20,000 words, born again and intensified. It’s the opposite of the first-draft high, the absolute pit of my writing process.
But, eventually, I know I will climb out again. I’ll overcome the doubt somehow, and I’ll finish the draft and move on to the uncertainties and anxieties of sending the story out to beta-readers, and before long, on to publishing…. but that’s a different rollercoaster altogether.
Writing a book is no easy feat. Anyone who says different is lying… or delusional. But even with all the difficulty—every lackluster writing day, every painful draft, every rage-inducing edit—that exhilarating moment when the book is done makes it all worth it. And though not every story I start ends up a completed novel, for every one that I do finish, it’s another credit to my career as a writer, another gold star, and even the failures have lessons to teach, if I choose to learn them.
So I’ll take it—the good and the bad—because I know that in the end, every word I write brings me one step closer to greatness.