How to sustain novel writing interest

Catan Junior board game
Maybe not this kind of game, exactly…

People sometimes ask about how to sustain interest in a novel-length project as a writer, a question that can be especially relevant to folks with ADHD. Dealing with shiny new ideas is one thing, but how do you keep drafting or revising when the donwannas descend?

When things start getting too Real and Serious, when the grind feels like an endless series of tedious fetch quests with low drop rates, I don’t give up. Instead, I come up with a game.

I’m not the only one who does this and I didn’t invent the concept. I use the term “game” because my husband explained it in improv terms that way. When you make a joke, it’s a joke. Do it twice and it’s a callback. Three times, it’s a game.

Find a thing that’s fun for you, and figure out how to repeat it over the course of the novel. Write towards it the way you eat a meal while thinking about dessert. Edit with an eye to figuring out where to insert it.

You can add the game at whatever stage you need it in your writing process: the start, the murky middle, the end, while revising… whenever! You can do this on a small scale, within a particular scene or in a chapter, or you can spread it out throughout the whole book.

It can be as obvious or subtle as you want. You can be the only one who knows it’s there, or it can be a blatant running gag that gets progressively funnier. It can be an object turning up inconveniently, a symbol you eventually subvert, a character who changes over time… anything that you’re excited to repeat and revisit. It’s all up to you. Instead of Chekhov’s gun, it’s Chekhov’s fun*!

And the cool thing is, chances are the game adds continuity and cohesion, an anchor point a reader can latch onto. It gives them something to look forward to, something to notice on a second or third read, something you can deploy for surprise and delight or to add emotional depth and resonance. Used at just the right moment, it can lighten up a serious scene or cause more tears than a cut onion.

Writing can be a hard slog, so it’s worth treating yourself along the way. You’re digging the tunnel, but you also have the power to hold up a light for yourself at the end of it–or even better, add lights along the way so it isn’t all crushing darkness. Not just lights, either. Snacks. Party music. Cheesy motivational posters of cats. Go all out! It’s your tunnel, and you deserve to enjoy it.

Game on!

*Millions of dad voices suddenly groaned in agony…

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