I don’t know about you, but perhaps my biggest problem is finishing a novel once I’ve started it. Countless stories have died in my imagination before they ever got to paper or computer, and many that I start writing never get beyond a few sentences. In fact, if you think about it, so far I’ve only finished two out of the hundreds I’ve started. That’s not very good odds. Before I finished Dragon’s Heart, my biggest challenge was persevering and completing what I had begun. Writing all of Dragon’s Heart from beginning to end taught me a lot about writing and how to finish. Still, I undertook a lot of projects after that, and none of them stuck.
And then came the novel that I’m working on now. Only a month had gone by when I knew that this book was different. I was thinking about it all the time; I heard the characters in songs, got inspirations for plot twists everywhere I went, and I was enchanted by the imaginary world they lived in. Never once did I think I wouldn’t finish it. Something inside me just knew I was going to. Certainly, writer’s block and phases of disinterest inevitably came, but there was never a question in my mind about getting through. It was just a matter of time. At times there were rivals to my attention: other stories I also developed simultaneously, and I confess sometimes I found them more interesting. But as the months (and eventually years) passed, they fell away and this novel alone stood as my goal. I wondered what exactly it was about this book that was different and had kept it alive after all this time.
Finally it came to me. What made this story so thrilling to me was a character. Just this one character (and his relationship to the main character) kept me coming back. As dictated by the plot, he had to be a complex and three-dimensional character with many, many layers. To clearly understand his motives, em0tions, and actions, I had to invent a past for him, and know his hidden thoughts, even if none of them ever came up in the book. For a writer, that’s absolutely fascinating. There was (and is) always something new to learn about him. I came to know him so well I can see his face clearly in my mind, and he doesn’t just look like someone I know or someone from a movie. He’s his own unique person. This is true of any story I write; as much as I may like the theme or plot, what I love best about writing is watching the characters come to life. That’s what keeps me going. It doesn’t take long for me to become convinced they’re real. They become my best friends.
What all these vague and off-topic paragraphs are leading up to is simply this: find what enchants you about writing in general and your novel in particular and focus on that. Whether it’s the characters, the plot, your theme, or something else entirely, find it, hold it tight, and develop it until you finish. Then let it go, stand back, and admire your work.