The 11 Emotional Stages of Writing A Novel: It’s Just Like Restoring a Car

junkcarNow that I’ve written several manuscripts and restored a number of classic cars, I can tell you the emotional stages of each process are nearly identical. I know that may sound hard to believe, so for those lacking the car restoration experience allow me to elaborate.

No one would begin a project that sucks up every ounce of free time without a big dream, and a healthy dose of unbridled enthusiasm. The dream part is good. We all need dreams. Unfortunately, the enthusiasm is a product of the fact that you are a clueless idiot. At this stage, you have no idea the process is almost going to kill you. Will likely bankrupt you, and that you may need a tow truck to cart away the wreckage of your tattered soul, or the rusted chassis of a vintage sedan.


It both cases this is an adrenalin fueled decision. We throw down the first few thousand dollars (or words) quickly. We tell ourselves a host of lies to make the end goal sound easy. There is always a little part of us that knows it’s not easy, but without blind faith in our own latent abilities most of us would turn back without ever starting. 


There is a zen like lull following that first zap of brain altering hormones. This is when we start to slow down and plan for the long term. We make lists. We buy necessary equipment. We start thinking about the long road ahead of us clearly.


Once reality settles in, it’s meltdown mode. You realize everything is going to take much longer and demand more elbow grease than you expected. At this stage, most people stow the manuscript in a file folder. Or drag the car back to the barn of an elderly relative where the darn thing came from in the first place, and pray for spontaneous amnesia.


If you fight past the panic wave, you enter a renewed commitment stage. You throw out the unrealistic timetables. You acknowledge your own shortcomings with faith and humor, if a touch of melancholy. This is usually when you try to learn some skills, do some research and reach out to humans afflicted by the same madness. At this stage you’re still confident all you need is a helping hand, or a few resources, and victory is yours for the taking. This is a long, hard, get to work phase. This is when you roll up your sleeves and make significant progress.


You love it. You hate it. You love it. No explanation necessary! The bipolar phase can strike repeatedly and at any stage. Some people flip back and forth between bipolar, panic and acceptance levels several times before arriving at the next stage. Bipolar stage is often linked with an anger component. You can be angry with yourself, or with the project.


During this stage the project keeps you up at night with a feeling that has no name. It’s a state of confusion that comes from wondering how in the world you landed in your current mess. You start to dissect every decision with a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach that something is wrong. You tell yourself it’s nerves, or a touch of the flu. You keep working harder than ever, trying to overcome uncertainty by brute force.


This is the darkest hour. This is when you learn the sinking feeling was real, and some horrible defect lurks beneath the new paint job. It’s the finished draft with an unlikable protagonist. It’s the flawed plot, and it sucks. During this stage you want to Free-cycle your classic car (or your laptop), curl up in the fetal position and eat chocolate for a month. Or two. Owning up to the fact that you caused this current predicament by doing something stupid, makes you feel rotten to the bones. However, knowing the only way to fix this nightmare is by destroying months of hard work, and stripping off all the shiny doodads you just worked your butt off to attach, makes you feel even worse.   


After a long dark tunnel, the last piece of the puzzle falls into place, and you figure out what you need to do to fix everything. You realize it’s not going to be easy, but you’ve come this far. You’ve decided you are no quitter and you will finish this blasted thing if it’s the last thing you do. This stage is accompanied by a spurt of work that leaves you baggy eyed. For the first time you feel the end is near and other people start to notice the difference too.


At this stage you’re done, but you just can’t help bemoaning the fact that you can’t find a matching window crank. You need the right verb for page 213 and a better name for a protagonist’s father. And what about those elusive floor mats that match the carpet? This is when you tinker with everything in an effort to protect yourself from rejection. You can’t stand to let go of your baby because the world is a cold, cruel place. For many this is the hardest stage of all, but at some point you must let it go.


It’s been a huge job and you know it’s never going to be over (darn those shopping carts and typos). There will always be something to fix. This is when you understand that perfection is an unattainable goal. You learn to enjoy what you’ve accomplished. Getting to this point took your last vestiges of courage, but you made it. Only you know how much you sacrificed to finish. The best part is no one can take that accomplishment away from you. You now own a thing of beauty that you created with your own two hands. Let yourself revel in your prize!

Up Next from Robin…. Romantic Treats

Author: Robin Rivera

Robin trained as a professional historian and worked as a museum curator, educator, and historical consultant. She writes mystery fiction, with diverse characters and a touch of snark. She's currently working on two new manuscripts that started off as NaNoWriMo projects. You can follow her on Facebook( However, Pinterest ( is where her inner magpie is happiest of all.

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