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?