Finding the Sweet Spot of Novel Writing

The idea of writing a novel can test the mettle of the best of us. I don’t care if it’s your first or your eleventh time out (like me, right now). It can be one overwhelming, oh-m’gawd-am-I-really-doing-this? Maybe it’s the blank screen of a computer. Even if you write in long hand, it’s still the blankness of a page staring at you. Just defying  you to write something down on it. Note Matt Haig’s solution to the right.

As for me, I write murder mysteries. So on that level, I’m set. Somebody’s going to die, probably more than one somebody, and it’s my job to tease the reader into thinking it can be any one of the suspects, none of the suspects, or maybe, reminiscent of Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, every danged one of them. It’s all in my approach.

Whether you are A) a plotter – someone who plots out every scene in every chapter ahead of time or B) a pantster – someone who flies by the seat of their pants knowing the beginning and end but not much of the middle, most of writing a novel is all in the approach. When all else fails, I try to sneak up on it, like a farmer sneaks up on a spooked heifer when he’s trying to get her backside back in the barn.  Mooo. But in all seriousness, I have learned a few tricks along the way to finding the sweet spot to writing a novel.

1 – I make a realistic schedule for writing and stick to it. When you don’t write for a living, it’s hard to carve out time for it. Most people have full-time jobs and then some. But if you realistically view what your average day is like, there are often fifteen minutes to a half an hour you can call your own. Call them your writing time. When I held my full-time job, I would get up a few minutes earlier in the morning, grab a cup of coffee, and get in front of the computer. Sometimes, if I had a problem to work out, I would get up an hour or two before. I was eventually rewarded with my first novel. Now my full-time job is writing, but I still schedule my writing time and stick to that schedule.

2 – I found a space I can call my own and made it my writing sanctuary. It doesn’t matter if it’s a large office or a corner of the laundry room. Mine is a small alcove off the kitchen, maybe 7 by 7 feet square. But it’s mine.  I keep it neat and orderly (up to a point), and am answerable to no one for it. I don’t let others crash it, except for the occasional purring cat (very soothing). I have discovered everyone wants in on a sanctuary, but I am firm. It’s mine; stay away. I need a place to write.

3 – I give myself the time needed to complete my work to my satisfaction. The completion of a novel is a lot like birthin’ a baby (and some would say just as painful). You have a general idea of the due date but babies, themselves, hardly ever pay attention. Even if they did, things happen.  After it’s done, I need to put the novel away for a time, let it rest, and come back to it with a fresh eye. If I’ve done twenty rewrites and they aren’t enough, I do twenty-one. Or thirty-one. Or fifty-one. No novel leaves my grasp until it’s ready. In the past, I have been on gruesome deadlines from publishers and it has sometimes been a nightmare. I ultimately learned that whatever deadline a publisher gave me, I would have one for myself two-months previous. Now my deadlines are my own, but still exist. I factor in the ‘rest’ time, regardless.

4 – I respect the craft of writing. It’s a long haul, but I try to short-shrift no one, including myself. I am proud of what I do; I am proud to tread the same pathway as my betters. If Will Shakespeare is looking down from somewhere, I want him to be able to say, “There’s that Heather Haven again. But she always gives it her best.”




Below are other bloggers with thoughts and feelings on the subject. We love our words!

Skye Taylor
Margaret Fieland
Dr. Bob Rich
Connie Vines
Victoria Chatham
Helena Fairfax
Beverley Bateman
Marci Baun
Judith Copek
Rachael Kosinski
Diane Bator
A.J. Maguire
Rhobin Courtright

16 responses to “Finding the Sweet Spot of Novel Writing”

  1. I love the writing tips, both yours and Matt’s. You’re so right about having your own writing space. Mine is my room and everyone (except the cats) knows that when my door is shut I am not to be disturbed.

  2. Heather, I approve of your organized way of doing your writing, although I could never copy. My writing spot is approximately anywhere, at any time.
    Maybe when I grow up…

    • Skye, thank you! I hope you know – if not let me tell you – one of the characters in my latest book, The CEO Came DOA, was named after you! I love your name, Skye.

  3. Good advice, Heather! Having space and a schedule is important, but while I have the space, for a person who strives for organization and scheduling, I often fail, mostly because I’m easily distracted.

  4. Wow! Eleven books! Congrats! I very much like the idea of a sanctuary. Being a college student I don’t really have a place where I can super be on my own and in quiet, but I hope to have one someday.

    • Rachel, wherever you are will be your sweet spot. Sometimes it can be a little harder to come by, but you’ll find it.

  5. Heather, I am impressed by anyone who can plot and write a mystery. When I start a novel, I usually know the beginning, the ending, and the major plot points, if I’m lucky. The rest comes out in the writing, and I’m often surprised by how things work out.

  6. Eleven novels? That’s impressive. My muse tends to cut things short, so full-length for me is closer to 50k… if I’m lucky.

    In order to carve a place out for me to work, I need to clean. Sigh. That’s my next project.

    And getting more organized with a writing schedule would help. (Shutting out distractions would help more.)

    • Marci, step by step. You sound like you’re on your way. BTW – Don’t clean! When the weather gets better, go outside under a tree. Your sweet spot isn’t always in your house, you know. I have a friend who writes in his car.

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