Novel Writing and Mountain Climbing

by Paul Baines

It’s the usual scenario. You were full of get-up-and-go and you set yourself a target of a thousand words a day. Manageable but enough to make you feel as though you are making headway. You draw a chart, showing your progress. A novel in three months. Not bad. You imagine holding the finished manuscript in your hand. You see agents and publishers smiling and nodding as they read through it.

That was four weeks ago and today is Tuesday. You’ve finished four or five chapters and have been pretty good at meeting your daily goals for the past few weeks. Saturday and Sunday you felt fine. Monday you finished almost two thousand words. Today, however, you just can’t seem to find the “get-up”, never mind the “go”. The cursor is blinking at you and the keys wait patiently under your fingers, but you just can’t think of anything to write. And the thoughts start to creep in. Thoughts like: what’s the use in going on? The manuscript is only a third done, your main character is starting to annoy you, and you’re not even sure if the plot is any good. You, like almost every other author who has ever set out to write a book, are suffering from a slump in motivation.

The thing with books is they are big projects. We’re not talking house big, or even hill big, but mountain big. You started out at the base camp and you could see the glorious peak beckoning to you from way up among the clouds. It looked so beautiful and majestic, and you wanted to be there so badly. So you thought of something you wanted to write and you started to climb. At first it was easy going. The air was thick and easy to breathe. The slope was invigorating but manageable. You were surrounded by beautiful scenery that inspired you to push on. You felt good. But before long you found yourself on less forgiving terrain. The slope became icy and the gradient more taxing. The air started to thin and you struggled to breathe. Every step became hard work as you pushed on through a wilderness of ice and snow. The wind picked up and gray clouds gathered. You looked up but the summit was nowhere to be seen. Your initial enthusiasm began to fade along with your reasons for taking on this challenge in the first place.

So what do you do? How do you keep going when faced with this mountain of an obstacle? I’ve been there a few times and I can tell you what worked for me. Perhaps it will help you. My own journey began fourteen years ago. My first novel was done in a few months and was accepted by an agent, but after a year of trying they informed me that they could not sell it. It came close but was not strong enough. In the meantime I wrote three more stories and they tried to sell those too, but without success. For the next ten years I continued to write and occasionally submitted to publishers and agents. I had a few positive comments but nobody would take me to print. A few years ago I gave up trying to be published and wrote for the pleasure of it. Two years ago I started a degree in creative writing. The tutor and assessor both said I should seek publication. I wrote two more novels. The latest, Alpha Redemption, was published in September 2010.

So over the past fourteen years I have written at least six novels, and received more rejection letters than I care to count. Why did I keep going? What pushed me to continue? How do you keep on writing when the mountain is so high and so steep and the summit is nowhere to be seen?

* I started by handing everything to God. I would do my best to glorify and honor Him through my labors, and leave the opening and closing of doors to Him. Over the years, my prayer changed from “please let me be published” to “please don’t let me be published, unless you want it to be”.

* I realized that writing is not something I do but part of who I am. If you feel compelled to write, if it eats at you when you are not putting words on a page, then you are a writer.

* Not knowing how to continue is normal. If this happens to me, I leave my desk and pick up a book by my favorite author, and soak up the inspiration from the pages. More often than not, I soon end up back at my desk.

* If the route you are on hits a dead-end, back up and try a different way. A mountaineer cannot afford to stop or they will perish. Look for a new path, but don’t stop moving. Perhaps you will discover a much better route that you would have missed.

* If you ever feel as if you are wasting your time, think what else you would be doing if you weren’t writing. Perhaps you could be watching the television, or listening to music, or going out for a meal. If you did those things you would have nothing to show for it. If you push on with writing, you may end up with the next bestseller.

* Reading is almost as good as writing–if you are learning from it. Use the momentum from your reading to kick-start your writing.

* Sometimes you will feel that your writing is too dull. Keep writing anyway. You can always correct it later. Dull can be fixed. Empty pages cannot.

* Writing is never a waste of time. Every key press is helping you to become better at what you do. So press those keys.

* When you finally reach the peak, enjoy the view, but don’t stay there too long. Get busy revising and editing, and maybe start thinking about that next mountain you glimpsed in the distance on the way up.


P.A.Baines is the author of Alpha Redemption, a Christian speculative fiction novel that asks the question: “If a man-made artificial intelligence became self-aware and developed a belief in God, would God recognize it as having a soul?”.

Educated in Africa, he works as an analyst/programmer and is studying towards a degree in Creative Writing through the Open College of the Arts in England. He currently lives in a small corner of the Netherlands with his wife and two children and various wildlife.

Visit Paul online at:

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