Eight Nudges That Moved My Novels to the Finish Line

WELCOME TO GUEST WRITER, KAREN MEYER – “The Ohio Frontier History Lady” and Author of Eight Books Including Conflict at Chillicothe and Battle at Blue Licks.

Most of us have many things we want to finish—tasks or activities we need to complete. One way I tackle the problem is to make to-do lists. At the beginning this method didn’t work, since I’d often lose the list! To overcome that problem, I started keeping my lists on a clipboard. That clipboard has become my brain—it sits beside my computer in the daytime and beside my bed at night. Each time the crossed-off tasks outnumber the unfinished ones, I recopy the list. It doesn’t bother me that I don’t get everything done, I just transfer it to the new list. In other words, I’m not a slave to the list, but it really helps me to organize and prioritize my work. It also helps me remember some small, important task that might be forgotten, like sending a grandchild’s birthday card. Other important things are kept safe on my clipboard. Each page is labeled at the bottom so I can flip to them quickly.

However, I can’t put creative tasks on a to-do list, at least not very easily. How have I finished so many books? Would you believe that my first book, Conflict at Chillicothe, languished for ten years before it went to print! Holding that book in my hand, finally finished, meant it was time to start on my next childrens’ novel. But I learned to work faster! With seven more books to my credit, I can now give suggestions from my own experience.

Do you dream of finishing your novel? Everyone works differently, but some of my methods might give you just the nudge you need. In fact, I challenge you to try at least one of them in the coming week.

I Planted My Story into My Mind

My characters keep me company because I think about them at odd times, wondering what will happen to them next. If I plan to take them on a journey, I visualize their route and think what they might be doing as they travel. I imagine what might be growing along the way and what smells would tickle their noses. The setting of my story influences how they feel, so I make sure some rain or snow falls. I jot these ideas on a separate sheet on my clipboard

I Practiced Shaping My Plot and Characters

Verbalizing my plot and character ideas to a critique partner, friend, sister, brother, or spouse works well for me. While the ideas are still tumbling around in my brain, I explain them to others and that helps sharpen them in my own mind. Once they are fully formed, I write them down before they fly away. My heroine for Whispers at Marietta turned out to be a teen with a bad attitude, though I forget now who made the suggestion.

I Solved Problems in My Sleep

I let my brain solve plot problems while I sleep. This idea is not as preposterous as it may sound; it’s been scientifically proven that our brains sort and make sense of things during sleep. I think about my characters and their current circumstances as I turn out the light and put my head on the pillow. I keep a small flashlight, a pad, and a pen nearby so I’ll be ready to jot down any middle-of-the-night ideas. That just-waking-up time the next morning has also yielded ideas for my work in progress. Every one of my books has benefited from this method.

I Started Asking “What if?”

Asking “What if?” is a proven method for writers to generate ideas to move their plot forward. I usually had a general idea of how my stories would end, but sometimes this method gave me better ideas. I ask questions like, What if my main character lost her best friend? What if she got lost on the way to her destination? What if the antagonist found damning information about my hero? This method helps conquer the dreaded “writer’s block”. It helped me find a surprise villain for The Tiara Mystery, one who had been in the story from the beginning, unsuspected by everyone, even me!

I Utilized “Bits and Pieces” of Time

I found minutes that otherwise would be wasted—fifteen minutes here and there. This revolutionized my writing time because I convinced myself I didn’t need a big block of time to write.  Since I had ideas collected on my clipboard, I could open my document and whip out a rough draft of my next chapter or at least a hundred words in fifteen minutes. (Computers are a boon for writers, a great time-saver over pencil and paper.) My biography, Simon Kenton: Unlikely Hero needed much research for drawings and photos. I used “bits and pieces” of time to finish these tasks, since they could be done piecemeal.

I Accepted Help

Do you have someone in your family or a friend who wants to see your novel finished? I did and I learned to accept their offers to prepare a meal once or twice a week and thus give me more hours to write. My husband, who is retired, often fixed dinner for us while I let the creative juices flow for North to Freedom. I regularly let others know how my book is coming along. It encourages me when people ask about what steps I’ve made toward completion.

I Reread My Fan Letters

The writers I know don’t write for fame or fortune, but they’ll admit that enthusiastic fans boost their creativity. My middle grade readers, the primary audience for my novels, have written me lots of fan letters—maybe because their teacher made it a class assignment—and rereading them gets me revved up for finishing my next work in progress. Hold on to those fan letters–your fans will cheer you across the finish line.

I Refused to Give Up

I learned to use the momentum that an unfinished task generates. I keep rereading what I’ve written and let it act like a pebble in my shoe. It spurs my mind begging me to write more. It makes me want to know how my story ends.

Have you accepted my challenge to finish your book? Which nudge helped the most? Let me know in the comments below.

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