When Writing a Novel Seems Overwhelming

When I was working in the financial services industry, I occasionally faced a task that seemed insurmountable in the time allotted. My reaction was usually an internal state of panic: the chest tightens, and the pulse increases. Then I’d take a deep breath and tell myself, “Just break it down into manageable parts. Start small and build upon it.”

That’s how writing a novel is. If you look at it on the whole, the task can feel overwhelming. So my advice is: Take a deep breath and break it down into manageable parts.

Break it down into parts.
Good story structure consists of four parts. I discussed those parts in the post Building Your Story on a Solid Foundation.

“Virtually every successful novel you read and movie you see is built on this trusted and proven structural foundation.” ~ Larry Brooks

Break it down into beats.
A good story consists of beats to keep the reader engaged. I discussed those beats in the post Just Beat It: Using a Beat Sheet to Plan Your Story.

“’Let’s beat it out!’ It means it’s time to put all those great scenes and ideas and characters ‘up on the board’ and see what goes where, which character does what, and whether you need every scene you’ve imagined…or have to invent all new ones.” ~ Blake Snyder

Break it down into chapters.

“Titles are important; I have them before I have books that belong to them. I have last chapters in my mind before I see first chapters, too. I usually begin with endings, with a sense of aftermath, of dust settling, of epilogue.” ~ John Irving

Break it down into scenes.

“You can’t write a novel all at once, any more than you can swallow a whale in one gulp. You do have to break it up into smaller chunks. But those smaller chunks aren’t good old familiar short stories. Novels aren’t built out of short stories. They are built out of scenes.” ~ Orson Scott Card

Break it down into sentences.

“The first sentence can’t be written until the final sentence is written.” ~ Joyce Carol Oates

Break it down into words.

“This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until it’s done. It’s that easy, and that hard.” ~ Neil Gaiman



What is the Insecure Writers Support Group?

IWSG badgePurpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer – aim for a dozen new people each time.

Are you an insecure writer? Would you like to join the group? Click here for the sign up page.


24 thoughts on “When Writing a Novel Seems Overwhelming”

  1. Great post! It would be awesome to include links to the blog posts you reference — I’m thinking specifically of the post you mentioned about beat sheets, because I would definitely like to read that one!

  2. Oh, those moments of panic where you freeze in the face of it all. I know them well! Thanks for the great advice. (I also love the way you formatted the post to reinforce the message.) Off to check out your other post links. 🙂

  3. That was a great post, breaking a novel down into smaller parts makes it so much more approachable. I even find just writing out a list of the things that need doing makes it much easier to approach, rather than looking at it like a huge, monstrous thing to be tackled. No joke, I tend to have morning meetings with myself where I write out what I’ll have to do for the day, and for a time I even had monday meetings with myself (and the two cats) to review how well I’d progressed the week before compared to my goals. A leftover from actuarial days no doubt 😉

    1. Ha! I’m picturing you calling the meeting to order with the two cats present, lol. I do something similar. Well, I don’t call a meeting to order with my pets (Ha! I love that!), but I make lists, goals for the day/week. It’s good to take stock of things. It can motivate you or leave you with a sense of accomplishment or both. 🙂

      1. Oh absolutely, if I don’t have a list for the day, I end up labouring on and on without ever feeling like I’ve accomplished anything….To do lists and goals are essential to a productive day.

        I did the meetings by myself at first, but much more fun doing it whilst herding cats (literally) 😉

    1. You should! It’s another great way to meet writers and…commiserate about our insecurities. I mean, support each other. Writing is a solitary pursuit and it helps to know you’re not alone.

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