4 Ways To Make Yourself Complete a Book

One of the biggest problems I’ve seen with newer writers is the difficulty in finishing a book. In fact, just last week I was chatting with a real life friend who got discouraged with her first book and gave up writing it.

It’s fairly normal for every writer at some point to push aside a book. Maybe life circumstances interfere with our writing, and by the time we get back to our book, we’ve lost the passion for it. Perhaps we start a book in a certain genre, but realize it’s not our thing. Or maybe we reach a point in our novels where we realize the story doesn’t work.

There are definitely valid reasons for abandoning books. Every writer needs to give themselves permission to do so. I have a couple unfinished novels in my closet. Putting aside a book doesn’t make us any less of a writer. Sometimes moving on is the best thing. We give ourselves the freedom to start fresh, apply what we’re learning, and keep the joy of writing alive.

But . . . (You knew that was coming, didn’t you?) There are too many instances when writers STOP working on a book, and instead they need to persevere to the finish. More often than not, writers give up way too easily.

Boredom, discouragement, writer’s block, lack of time. We can give a hundred reasons why we’re not finishing the story, when in reality we need to stop making excuses and just get to work.

I didn’t offer my real-life friend any advice about finishing her novel. But if I had, here are four things I might have told her.

1. Have a weekly writing plan.

Writing whenever, wherever, and however is usually a recipe for NOT writing. If we want to complete a book, then we’ll have better success if we establish tangible writing goals.

Every time I start a new book, I look at how many months I want to spend on the first draft. For the book I’m currently writing, I require myself to write 1000 words/day 6 days a week. At that pace, I’ll be able to finish my 100,000 word book in 5 months by the end of May. Then I’ll take a month to get feedback from my critique partner and to self-edit before turning the draft in to my publisher.

Your plan will look different than mine. You might set 500 words/day as your goal (that was mine when I wrote The Preacher’s Bride). Maybe you’ll give yourself a weekly word count goal rather than daily. Perhaps you’ll decide you’d rather write a certain number of scenes or chapters per week. The point is, come up with a plan and stick to it.

2. Force yourself to write even when you don’t feel like it.

Yes, there are days when I don’t want to write. I’m busy. Or sick. Or just plain tired. But I force myself to sit down and type, even on those blah days. And I don’t pack up the laptop until I get in my daily quota.

“But,” you might protest, “doesn’t forcing yourself to write on blah days inhibit creativity? Won’t it affect the quality of the story?”

When I re-read what I’ve already written (and I just hit the half-way point), I can’t tell the bad days from the good. The story still flows because the constant use of my writing muscles keeps them strong and healthy.

3. When in a slump, add more conflict and tension to your story.

We should always be on the look-out for ways to keep the tension high. But when we hit a roadblock or get bored, we can make a special effort to add more conflict. I ask myself, “How can I make things worse for my main characters?” I brainstorm a list of ideas which ends up providing new inspiration for my story.

4. Sketch out a road map for how to move your story along.

Whether we’re a seat-of-the-pants writer or a plotter, there usually comes a point in every story where we need to sketch out a rough plan for how we’re going to finish getting to the end of the book.

Even though I’m plotter, I still need to take some time (usually at the three-quarter mark) where I look at my characters’ arcs and all of the plot lines to make sure everything is changing as needed. If we don’t take the time to assess where we’re going and how we’ll get there, we may back ourselves into a corner. Even worse, we’ll be left trying to wrap everything up in a chapter or two which could make the changes sound contrived.

Your turn! Do you have any uncompleted manuscripts sitting in a drawer? What were your reasons for not completing the book(s)? Were they valid? And what other advice would you give someone struggling to complete a book?


  1. Ah Jody! You always make me think!

    I have some that I made myself finish and then cringed with the ending. I don't believe in not finishing things, but I agree, a few of those MSs would have been better off.

    But perseverance was always my down fall.

    Great post. Thanks for sharing all your knowledge and congrats on the half way point! YAY YOU!

  2. Hi Bonnie,

    So interesting to hear you say "But perseverance was always my down fall." I've always thought of perseverance as a positive trait! And while I still do think of it positively, I also wonder if there might be times when it could be a hindrance? Especially at times when it truly is in our best interest to "break up" with a project and move on? Hmmm . . . now YOU'VE got ME thinking this morning too! Love when that happens! :-)

  3. These are excellent suggestions, Jody...and not just for writing. You've given valuable advice for how to finish most anything in life that we set out to do: have a plan, force yourself to persevere even when you don't feel like it, add some creativity when you hit a slump, and assess your progress along the way, always with your eye on the goal. Whether we're trying to complete a book or get the spring cleaning done, these are excellent steps to take to push us along. Thanks for sharing them!

    ~ Betsy

  4. Great ideas. When working on Locked Within, I posted my daily word count on Facebook, similar to another writer friend. We weren't in competition or anything, but it helped me keep working because I was sub-consciously comparing my output to hers.

  5. Great point Betsy! That's very true about non-writing endeavors. You summed it up really well: "have a plan, force yourself to persevere even when you don't feel like it, add some creativity when you hit a slump, and assess your progress along the way, always with your eye on the goal."
    LOVE it! :-)

  6. And Paul, that's another great idea for completing a book. It could be point number 5: Get an accountability partner. I've found that posting my word count and having someone to help keep me on track helps immensely too!

  7. Number three is KEY! In fact, I have a blog for my 5th grade classroom. It sort of works as more of a forum than a blog. Anyway, one of the threads I started is called "Advanced Writing Tips" for some of my 5th graders who LOVE writing. One of my students posed this question on the blog: "Why is it easier to write when your character is in trouble or there's lots of suspense?" Which led to a brilliant teachable moment.

    Great stuff, Jody!

  8. Katie,
    That is REALLY cool that you have a blog for your 5th grade class!! They're really blessed to have you for their teacher! :-)

  9. Learning to finish those books is great practice for when you're writing on a deadline!

  10. I've finished the first one and completed one edit. I put it aside for a while, looked at the first chapter yesterday and...yawn! So much work to do the meantime I'm working on something else. But here's where I have fallen off the wagon. Last year, I had a writing schedule. This year, I've let it slide, partially because I am working part-time at a physical job from which I get home exhausted. That is not a good enough excuse though. Thank you for reminding me! Back to a schedule I go.

  11. Someone once pointed out, "The reader doesn't know if the words were flowing freely or being painfully extracted one by one." I think that is a great point.

    It helps me to think some of my favorite authors might have spent sometime banging their heads on the keyboard(not that I do that:),no never)rather than easily pounding out a book every two weeks or so.

    All of these are great points, but I think #2 is most important. You have to keep going, even if you aren't in the creative mood.

    I also love the idea of an accountability partner. I think that is why I enjoy NaNo every year. I love posting my word count and watching that little bar move on my progress tracker.

  12. Great solid advice!

    I got halfway through my first novel attempt and then laid it aside because my characters were empty -- they had no motivation at all. As discouraging as that was at the time, I'm glad for the experience. When I think of all I've learned about the craft in the relatively short span between then and now, an abandoned novel seems almost like a mile marker on the road to publication. I'm more than happy to keep my practice sessions away from the light of day!

    I would definitely echo point #2 -- waiting to feel like writing leads to more waiting and less writing! I also think sometimes writers count inspiration as much more common than it is. To me, inspiration is when you get the idea for the book. The rest is showing up for work!

  13. This is interesting. I was listening to a Stephen King interview and he said he started writing "The Dome" in 1973 but stopped because it was to big for him at the time. Then he tried again in 1978 (I think it was) and finally he wrote it in the 90's. He moved on but never let the idea die and that is important.

  14. Hey everyone! Love the thoughts from all of you!! These two really stick out to me:

    Here's one from Dawn: "The reader doesn't know if the words were flowing freely or being painfully extracted one by one."

    And here's one from Brandy: "Inspiration is when you get the idea for the book. The rest is showing up for work!"

  15. I wrote my very first book by committing to write ONE PAGE A DAY for a year. It worked.:)

  16. My manuscript was lost to a freak drowning accident involving a chimney. Only in Paraguay could that be a true statement. I do have some of the manuscript backed up else where but the loss and changing to a new computer has left me very discouraged. This post has been an encouragement to do just that.

  17. Bottom in chair. Yep, simple as that. I can't talk my way out of this one.

    Thanks Jody, the Lord uses you to speak such simple and settling truths.

  18. Hi Jody,

    Thanks for another inspirational post. I have three uncompleted manuscripts. I stopped them because I'm not sure if this is the season I'm supposed to be pursuing the fiction writing I want to write. I've got young children, I'm teaching Bible study and Sunday school, and have a speaking ministry with a retreat I'll be speaking at in two months. My spare time seems to be taken up with preparing for speaking or teaching and leaves little for the creative writing.

    But writing fiction is my dream, and I keep wondering if I'm just making excuses and should be making the time for it if I really want it, or if pursuing it now would be selfish and I just need to be patient. Ugh... sorry for the ramble. I love your posts and learn every time I read one.

    Happy Friday!

  19. What great tips! Where I get all stopped up is after the rough draft is all written...the thought of re-reading it and editing it all is so overwhelming. The writing part is fun, the editing part, not so much. But I think these tips can be applied to that process as well, which helps a bit!

  20. Becky said: "I keep wondering if I'm just making excuses and should be making the time for it if I really want it, or if pursuing it now would be selfish and I just need to be patient."

    My response: We may indeed go through writing seasons. I did. I put my writing aside for about seven years when my children were much younger. I didn't write a single thing in all those years. And in hindsight, I can see it was exactly what I needed to be doing.

    Perhaps you will need to evaluate if this is a season in your life where your writing will take the back burner.

    However, with you saying you have 3 uncompleted manuscripts, I'm also inclined to think you might need to push yourself to finish one of them, even if it's just as simple as giving yourself the goal of 300 words a day. (Or giving yourself the goal of finishing one during the summer.) Just something to think about!

  21. Time. Sometimes that truly is the reason. In my case, I've done the things you recommend, but what I hadn't done was eliminate some things to free up time for writing. A number of things have conspired to finally hit me over the head to realize what I've been doing wrong.

    I'm in the processing of decluttering my schedule so that I can take your advice. I expect big things.

  22. I have one unfinished book, but that's because it's on the back-burner to work on two other projects. I like to see my ideas through!

  23. Jody,
    I appreciate this post probably more than anyone. I'm copying to read off line, print if I have to and put it in front of my nose.
    I love to write novels. I have 4-5 or more half finished. Only one finished in my life time. I hope that in your advice there will be a glimmer of hope for me. Funny thing is I'm a writer who has written for years, mostly short stories and essays. I love novels though and that's my dream. To be published. To have a book on the library shelf. OR at Big Lots here in Ohio. LOL.
    Thanks for listening and thanks for writing this one. Blessings, Barb

  24. Excellent. My writing is different, but at least 3 of the 4 point apply (probably not #3). For story in #4 I can substitute "message." Very good! Book #2 on Proverbs was almost done, but I'm removing 6 chapters and putting 8 different ones in. So, a little delay. Then, more work on the introduction, and then editing.

    Cheryl and I bought your book today at Mardels in Amarillo. Got the last copy. Will send a couple of pics.


  25. I needed this now, Jody, thank you!

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  27. Becky, I'm right there with ya. I have a finished draft of my first novel, and am working on a revision. But I also have small children (well, one toddler and my others are older) and I know they are my first ministry. It's frustrating trying to write at the speed I'd like when I'm getting tugged on and naptime goes to fast, etc. But then it's like "What am I thinking? I'm gonna blink and he'll be in college. SLOW DOWN."

    I'll continue working on my book,
    and I have other writerly things I'm involved with, but I have to release the timing of this novel and my dream of publication into God's hands. We each have our own journey to print and it won't look like anyone else's. Be encouraged!

    But next time you decide to pick up your pen, I'd encourage you to put it to one of your half-finished books instead of starting yet another from scratch. =)

  28. Before something is finished it is full of potential - it could be great. I think fear of finishing for me can come from a fear of the finished project not matching my hopes for it. I'm really trying to push through that at the moment and get into a good writing routine.

  29. As always, I gleaned so much from your post and the follow up comments. Thanks for your insights!

  30. Hi Jody -

    I've finished two books, have two partially done, and started a fifth. One of the partially done manuscripts is on hold as opposed to abandoned, while the other story wasn't working.

    Keeping an EXCEL spreadsheet motivates me as I see my word count going up.

    Susan :)

  31. Great points - I am on a novel writing break... but can't wait to get back into it - 3.5 months.. and I'll be putting those tips into use

  32. These are wonderful points - well said/written!

  33. Accountability is an excellent one. I work well with deadlines. It's the reason I started my blogspot; it makes me feel like I have a deadline to make.

  34. Just a quick note to say how much I appreciate your blog. Great job churning out interesting post after interesting post.

  35. Great blog! And you're right about sticking to a schedule. When I go back and read a manuscript, I can't tell which parts are written when I was "in the mood" from those sections written when I was just cranking it out according to schedule.

  36. Thanks for your kind words, Rachel (and everyone else!). The encouragement means a lot! :-)

    Wishing everyone all the best as you work on your WIPS and finish them! :-)

  37. Thanks for writing this post for me, Jody. :-)

    I made a goal to finish my current draft by March 31. That was working for awhile, but last week I got really sick and lost my momentum. I'm determined to push through, though.

  38. I am in the middle of the revision of my first-ever novel. I have another book half-finished, and ideas for two more that I am itching to outline. But I really need to finish that revision before I move on to the next thing. Thanks for the encouragement and the solid advice.

  39. I love this post, Jody!

    Your daily word count goal is very ambitious! (I wish I could be that consistent.) Some days I write pages and pages, but others, I can only get a couple of sentences in. What I did this year to finish a novel that was taking me FOREVER, was enter NaNoWriMo (just for the statistics graph, ha ha.) I didn't meet the 50,000-words-a-month goal, but I was motivated enough to finish the draft in January. :-)

    Now I have to set a similar goal for the revisions! (I hate them!!)

  40. Hi Lorena,

    That's a great way to work on finishing a book, entering NaNoWriMo! It's motivating to know others are working alongside us, isn't it? I think that's why finding an accountability partner can be so helpful too. That's usually what I do. I'll ask around on Twitter and find someone else who's in first draft mode. Then we'll hold each other accountable
    for our weekly goals, checking in on each other once a week.

  41. Thank you for the quality posts. I appreciate you taking time to share information that in sound and helpful. So many just post teasers so you will by a news letter or their most recent published materials. Posts like yours conveys a sense that you are a professional and committed to the career. Thank you for your knowledge and experience.

  42. dcollings,

    Thanks! I appreciate your compliment! I understand what you're saying. And I firmly believe that we ought to use our blogs to give back to others and build relationships. When we do, the marketing will take care of itself (mostly!).

  43. Wow! A new friend told me about your blog just today. I came to check it out and found something right away that will help me! Thank you!


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