When I wrote my first novel I was 12 years old, and my goal was pretty much to type until I had 100 pages of words. “There,” I thought to myself, “I did it! Novels are 100 pages long, I just wrote one!”
(Even at 12, though, I recognized that 100 pages of “they leave home, they wander for a while with the guy who can talk to birds, and then they come home again” was not actually a plot. More like typing practice.)
I wrote a lot through high school, heady days of popping open a laptop and getting 5k-6k words per night. I was still, you see, in the situation where I didn’t really care whether the words were a plot, I just liked putting them together.
Then came the intention of Getting Serious About This Stuff. I began selling short stories. I wrote a Real Novel.
Yes, well, that one is currently trunked, but like all first Real Novels it taught me a lot. For example, that when you get to 30k words in the first draft, you will panic and think that the book sucks. (And the idea sucks, and the execution. You suck as well.) I thought this on the first Real Novel (which really did have problems). I thought this on the next couple of books, too, though. It’s something about that particular spot in the narrative. I think it has something to do with both the way stories are structured (that’s about the time in the story when stuff should be getting serious), but also with the way that ideas are born. You can run on spit and inspiration for 30k words. After that, you’d best have written a roadmap down for yourself.
It’s important that you know the 30k Cliff is coming, if you are a writer. Real life interferes with writing all the time. It’s better not to compound the weekend when the kids get the flu, or there is a mysterious leak dripping, or you’ve been slammed at work, or it’s too dang hot, with the looming feeling like you’re not a real writer and you should stop wasting everyone’s time–just because you’re at 30k and it’s haaaard.
Sit down, plot out the next scene, and just keep going. Maybe the book does have problems. But you won’t know if you don’t finish it.