5 Tips To Help You Finish Your Book

6 Tips to Help You Finish Your Book

6 Tips to Help You Finish Your BookEvery time I hear about a writer finishing a book, I want to jump up and down and go into a gospel choir of Hallelujahs! It’s a momentous accomplishment for two reasons.

1. Finishing your book is the most important thing any writer will ever accomplish.

2. Not many writers do it.

Seriously. Depending on the source you examine, as much as 90% of the population wants to write a book. And many of those people will go so far as to actually begin writing something. But the percentage that actually finishes a book? Minuscule.

Why is that?

Easy. Writing a book is hard. Even dedicated writers like you and me find it hard to keep at it when the going gets rough on a story that just isn’t cooperating, for any number of reasons.

On Facebook, fantasy author Lee Diogeneia shared the results of a poll from her writing group:

Conquer 6 Obstacles and Finish Your Book

If the most important thing a writer can do is also one of the hardest–finish your book–then don’t you think it’s time you tackle some of the major obstacles standing between you and the finish line?

Let’s take a look at the six most common reasons writers drop their manuscripts–and how you can put habits in place to best every single one of them.

Obstacle #1: Discouragement

You know the drill. You wake up one morning, all bright-eyed and excited to be a writer–only to open your Scrivener file, look at your manuscript, and realize… this is complete rubbish.

You Know You Are Writer When ... you're convinced every word of the book you just finished is the worst thing anyone has ever written

Or maybe your email just pinged with the alert that one of your critique partners has returned their edits aaaaand they don’t really like the book.

Ouch.

Asking for Feedback on Your Work Makes You Feel Both Hopeful and Terrified You Know You Are A Writer When

Faced with these discouragements, you may find yourself tempted to throw in the towel. If you’re never going to be any good–if this story isn’t ever going to be any good–if it’s going to take your the rest of your life to make it any good–then what’s the point?

Solution: Keep Writing

You gotta keep truckin’, honey. Ain’t no story nowheres that popped out perfect right from the word go. Ain’t no writer nowheres who feels good about his story every single day of writing it. Hemingway rewrote the ending to his Pulitzer Prize-winning Farewell to Arms 47 times. Personally, I have gone through periods of major doubt about every single book I’ve ever written.

Is your book rubbish? Maybe. Is your critique partner right? Probably. That’s not news any of us wants to hear. But there is good news to be had there, and this is it: knowing the problem is halfway to solving the problem. Just in recognizing the issues, you’re already a better writer than you were yesterday.

And please note I said recognizing the issues. Use your brain here. Are you logically and reasonably identifying story problems? Or are you just in one of those moods where you feel like a failure? A writer’s gut instinct is a powerful thing, but if you can’t find a concrete (code for: fixable) reason for hating your manuscript this morning, then stop beating yourself up over nothing and get back to work.

Obstacle #2: Distraction

Life is more distracting than ever these days. Real-world jobs, family demands, Twitter notifications, you name it. Our attention is dangerously fragmented pretty much all the time. It’s frighteningly easy to let all these distractions shove our writing into the back corner of our lives.

Our writers’ imaginations, in themselves, aren’t always so helpful. Most of us are idea machines–churning out awesome new story ideas that are always and forever running off to dance with our muses… and leaving us to sit forlornly at our keyboards with our half-finished manuscripts. Sometimes it feels like you’re the one in detention, while all the cool kids are playing uproariously outside in the sunshine.

You Have Excellent Ideas for Scenes That Do Not Belong in Your Work In Progress You Know You Are a Writer When

Solution: Create Priorities–and Stick to Them

Hey, I never said the solutions were going to be easy! Sadly, there’s no hack for turning off the distractions or the new ideas. There’s only discipline.

The ability to grit your teeth and keep writing past the distractions is possibly the single most important attribute of a successful writer. People ask me all the time how I get so much done, and the answer always comes back to one word: willpower.

But, first, you have to make sure your priorities are organized. When I was young, my mom read me a story about life priorities. Your life is a big gallon jar. All the stuff in your life are rocks. The big stones are the big stuff: family, job, writing. The little rocks are everything else: Netflix, checking email, going out for dinner. If you dump all the pebbles into the jar first thing, there’s no room for the big rocks. But if you put the big rocks in first? Turns out you can still pour some of those fun pebbles into the cracks.

Determining you’re going to sit down and write for an hour a day isn’t going to get you very far unless you’ve first structured your day in such a way that you have an hour.

Same goes for shiny new ideas. You need a plan in place to grab and organize the ideas so they don’t distract you from the project at hand.  Check out this post for more ideas about how to deal with the distraction of new ideas.

Obstacle #3: Confusion

Let’s say you’ve got those first two problems licked. You understand how to cope with the ups and downs of writing and you’ve created a solid and professional writing schedule to keep you moving forward through life’s distractions. But what about when you’re halfway through your story and it just. isn’t. working?

Over my writing career, I’ve given up on three books. Ultimately, my confusion over the stories’ problems was the reason I gave up on every single one of them. After all, how are you supposed to finish your book when you don’t know how to finish it?

Your Protagonist Won't Talk to You and You Don't Know What You've Done Wrong You Know You Are A Writer When

Solution: Logically Identify the Story Problems

There are two possible reasons your story isn’t working.

1. It’s Broken

This does happen. There will be stories that, no matter how much you love them and how conscientiously you’ve tried to make them work, they just don’t. There comes a time when you have to know when to pull the plug on a broken story.

2. It Has a Logic Problem

Stories are logical beasts. If there’s a problem with your plot or your characters, there’s always a reason. The vast majority of those reasons are fixable. But before you can figure out how to fix it, you first have to identify the problem.

Sit down with a notebook and a pen and start asking yourself questions on paper. Start with what you know. What feels wrong? What’s bothering you? What don’t you like about this story? Then start narrowing it down, until you get to the heart of the issue.

Knowing what’s wrong with your story isn’t a bad thing. It’s a fantabulous thing. Knowing the problem means blowing away the confusion.

Obstacle #4: Lack of Planning

Ah-ha, you knew I was going to pull the old outline card, now didn’t you? Outlining your story before you begin the first draft isn’t a guarantee you’ll finish your book, but it will head off more than half the obstacles between you and the finish line.

You Have Trouble Moving Your Characters Out of Your Head and Into the Story

Most of the authors I meet who are struggling to find their stories’ end are struggling for the simple reason that they don’t know the story’s end. I faced this problem on my portal fantasy Dreamlander–the book that turned me, once and for all, into a confirmed outliner. When you don’t know your end, you not only don’t know what you’re working toward, but you don’t know how to set it up. By the time you discover your ending, the story you’ve written so far may be entirely the wrong set-up for that ending.

Bam. Just like that, you’re confronted with having to basically start your book all over again. Hence, the high abandonment rate.

Solution: Outline

Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success by K.M. Weiland

Yeah, it’s really that simple. I accept that outlining isn’t a process all authors enjoy–and sometimes that lack of enjoyment can be prohibitive in itself. It’s also possible to over-plan your story (which is an obstacle I’ll get to in a sec). But the fact remains that an outline is a tremendously powerful tool for helping you plan and execute this huge, rambling, complex problem we call a novel.

Here’s another fact: love outlining. It’s one of my favorite parts of the process. It doesn’t endanger my excitement about the first draft in the least. It empowers me to move forward in creating a story I completely understand from the outset.

(I’ve written extensively about my outlining process in my books Outlining Your Novel and the Outlining Your Novel Workbook. If you’re interested in seeing an example of one of my own outlines, you can grab the complete transcript of my outline for my dieselpunk novel Storming for free.)

Obstacle #5: Fear

There are a lot of reasons writers are afraid to move forward in finishing their manuscripts. The one I particularly want to focus on is the kind of fear that manifests itself in an obsession with “tweaking.” We see this kind of tweaking in two particular areas of the writing process:

1. Outlining
2. Editing

Two questions I receive with some regularity are, “How do I know when I should stop outlining?” and “How do I know when I should stop editing?”

If you have to ask either of these questions, then it’s probable you’re dealing with a fear obstacle on some level. (Although please don’t get me wrong: attention to detail and the discipline to create thorough outlines and conscientious edits is a vital attribute for any writer.)

Solution: Be Honest About When to Move Forward

I’m a massively in-depth outliner. My outline for my last book was 63,000 words and took me three months to finish. But I always know when it’s time to stop outlining and start writing. How? Easy. I reach the end of the outline. I have a complete story mapped out. When I reach that point, I know it’s time to move forward into the first draft. If I were go back at that point and keep tweaking, I would be retrogressing, and I know it.

Same goes for editing. When you reach the point where you have fixed all the logical, obvious problems, you’re done (unless and until you find another unforeseen logical problem to fix). Sitting there, tweaking and tweaking, switching out commas and agonizing over whether or not “walked” is the right word choice for that one sentence? Probably not going to have a major effect on the overall quality of your story.

Help Me I Can't Stop Rewriting My Novel You Know You Are A Writer When

Every part of writing brings its own challenges. Sometimes it’s ridiculously tempting to just stay in the part of the process where you’re at. It’s familiar–safe even. Making the jump from outline to first draft or editing to querying is scary.

But don’t let fear hold you back. Set deadlines for yourself, and when you cross the finish line, don’t hang around. Move onto the next race. Pull the trigger on that finished outline, and go write that first draft. Pull the trigger on those edits, and move on to the next book.

Obstacle #6: Lack of Passion

Finally, we come to perhaps the most disturbing of all the obstacles standing between you and the finish of your book. What if you just don’t care about it?

What if you wake up one morning and you realize you don’t even like this story anymore? Maybe you never liked it. Either way, you just don’t have the oomph in you to see it to the end.

You've Found Yet Another Way to Procrastinate Instead of Actually Writing You Know You Are A Writer When

This can happen for a number of reasons. Perhaps you chose the wrong story in the first place. Perhaps, in your attempt to create what you thought the market wanted, you turned it into a different story altogether. Perhaps you’ve changed as a person, to the point where these characters and their problems just aren’t doing it for you anymore.

Regardless the reason, the magic is gone, and that faraway finish line looks like a trek through the Sahara with no water.

Solution: Give It Some Space

This one’s easy. Not enjoying yourself? Then just stop. Nobody says you have to write this book.

Still, for many writers, there’s a lot of guilt involved in giving up on a book. Not only is there all that pressure coming from the knowledge that to finish your book is “the most important thing you can do as an author,” but there’s also the little fact that you’ve sunk months, maybe even years, of work into this baby.

Now, before I go any farther with this, let me remind you of what we all know: writing is hard. That’s just the way it is. Even on the best of projects, we all have days where we want to shut off the computer and never look at words again. Those are the moments when we have to put our discipline to work and keep on truckin’.

However, there’s a difference between having the occasional bad day (or even month) with a project you love–and having completely lost the spark. You need to be able to recognize the difference. As important as it is to develop the habit of finishing manuscripts, there’s no good reason to keep slaving away over a project that is irrevocably broken or that you just don’t care about anymore.

The first step is always to simply take a step back from the manuscript. Put it on the back burner for a while. Go write something that ignites your passion. Perhaps this other project just needs you to gain a little objectivity about it (absence does make the heart grow fonder and all that). Or perhaps that objectivity will bring the understanding and acceptance that, in this particular case, not finishing is actually the right choice.

The 3 Fool-Proof Tools to Figuring Out How to Finish Your Book

No matter which of these obstacles you may be facing as you try to finish your book, there is a three-step process you can take to identify and fix the problem.

1. Identify the Niggle

If you’re feeling the niggle of a problem–whether it’s a structural problem in your story or just the beginnings of burnout–pay attention to that. It needs to be addressed from the outset, not ignored.

2. Use Logic to Find the Problem

Once you’ve acknowledged the niggle, you must go beyond the niggle. Gut feelings will only get you so far. If you don’t know what’s causing the gut feelings, they can drive you crazy. Sit down in a quiet place and sift through your feelings until you can find the logical cause at their root. Probably, it’s one of these six obstacles.

3. Accept the Solution

The worst part of any problem is knowing there’s a problem without knowing what it is. Once you’ve used the above step to figure out the specifics, the worst is over. From there, you have to be willing to accept and enact the solution–whether that means moving forward with discipline in prioritizing your writing, buckling down to some needed edits in fixing known plot problems that are holding you back, or sometimes even just giving yourself permission to step back from an unsolvable problem so you can move on to the next book.

The only reason finishing a book is the hardest part of writing is because it’s the whole of writing. Set yourself up for finish-line success by focusing on each daily part of the process in meeting your goals, identifying obstacles, and overcoming them. Before you know it, you’ll finish your book. When you do, be sure to tell me about it so I can start that chorus of Hallelujahs!

Grab a Mug of coffee and Brace Yourself Today Is Goign to Be an Incredible Writing Day

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! What is the #1 obstacle you’ve faced in trying to finish your book? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. Joe Long says:

    Real life.

    I started nearly two years, got a lot written over a few months, but then didn’t have time.

    When I went back, I’d learned quite a bit here in the meantime and saw problems. Too much telling and not enough showing. Not enough action/reaction, even though the logic was fairly solid.

    I knew the story would head into the third act with a big fight between the MC and his father, but I had barely shown the father. He was spoken of, but had not voice of his own. When I started weaving in new scenes, I simply decided to start over.

    I do have it outlined to the end (under a thousand words – I’m brief.) Version two is into the second act, 50k words out of maybe 120k. I feel so much better about it and am very encouraged by the comments I’ve received.

    Unfortunately, there’s still my first and second jobs that take priority.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      The bad thing about real life is that, as you say, it gets in the way of writing. But the good thing is that it’s a constant source of inspiration and information from which we can draw for our writing. So there is a little bit of a trade-off there.

      • Joe Long says:

        My WIP is a teen romance, the first serious relationship for both characters. I drew from a lot of my personal experiences, not just at that age, but over my whole life.

        During my first long term relationship (more than a couple of dates) she at one point asked me, “What do you think of me?” I froze. My mind was going a thousand different directions. It didn’t help that romance last. I have the girl ask my MC the same question, with the some immediate response, but I let if go deeper and have some resolution. I was satisfied with it, but this morning in church the pastor was speaking of how we are all pieces, bringing our own contributions, to the whole. That reminded me of how some of the different personality types are attracted to each other, as I am a shy INTP but my wife is an outgoing ‘manager. ‘ Back to Scrivener, I added an additional response from my MC, where he says, “You complete me. I’m not lonely and scared anymore.” It sounds appropriate for the setting, but looking deeper it’s a self-centered answer. It’s about him and not her. Which lays seeds for later.

        So cool to fit the pieces together!

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          That’s one thing I really love about Myers-Briggs. It’s fascinating to put names (so to speak) to the qualities in other personalities and realize how they’re affecting us–and why. It’s definitely something that’s helped me in my writing, as well as my real life.

          • Joe Long says:

            Might be straying a little OT, but I followed up on the personality type. My MC is an INTP (like me) so I know what he’s like. That type is best with an EN_P, so I looked them up, and ENFJ fit his love interest best (and the 2nd girl can be ENTJ (like my wife) so she is similar but not quite the same).

            Then I read about ENFJ’s in relationship, and saw where I could make minor changes. Have her say things like “Are you OK?” “I can help with that” etc. When she suspects him of wanting another girl, instead of reacting angrily, I’ll change it to her being hurt, “Don’t I make you happy enough?”

            In those ways the character can be more realistic, in that I’ll be less likely to combine characteristics that don’t normally occur in real life.

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

            Smart! It’s interesting to me that, of all the types, I tend to write more characters who are SPs–which is the total opposite of me as an INTJ.

  2. Kate Flournoy says:

    This entire post can be summed up in one word— willpower. 😀

    And I’m actually incredibly grateful to be able to say I’ve never experienced wanting to quit, and I think I have my parents to thank for that.
    When I started writing about four years ago, I had no discipline or schedule or any of that— just tons and tons of passion, and that was enough. In fact I was so crazy about it and loved it so much it was starting to crowd out the rest of my life.
    So my parents put me on a schedule— only write in the evenings on weekdays, and any time Saturday. It was hard for me as a thirteen year old to accept that— I had cultivated my passion for writing so fanatically that it hurt not to be able to sit down and write whenever I felt like it.
    But right now four years and eight novels later, I’m realizing… surprise surprise 😀 … my parents were right. Their schedule helped me form irrevocable habits of writing. So now when I sit down to write, it’s not just passion, though there’s no less of that still! 😀 Now the passion is backed up by habit and willpower to get it done while I can.

    So thanks to my parents!

    And although schedules may seem scary, they just take a bit of getting used to, and are incredibly worth that effort.

    • Kate that’s awesome! I love your story and having passion at that age. That’s amazing! Then your parents training you to tame your passion with schedule.
      Two words that I take away from this post are:

      CHARACTER & DISCIPLINE

      We all have dreams but may lack the legs of character and discipline to bring it to fruition. To me, this is the driving vehicle to get us where we want to be. Elizabeth George and James Patterson both speak of having passion to be a writer, but without a vehicle, you’re going nowhere fast. I learned discipline early on in sports, swimming mainly. High school was kind of lazy years, but college really taught me a lesson. Once I *really* want something, I go for it headfirst.

      I really appreciate anyone who has actually completed a novel or book. You’ve completed 8!!! And one on the way that’s great! Keep up the hard work sister!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Kate, that’s a really fabulous tip! Passion is vital, but it’s so easy to let it get out of control. All by itself, it’s a short road to burnout. Balancing the passion with real-world practicality is a long-term plan for success.

      • Kate Flournoy says:

        Good— glad to hear you say that. 😀 I’m still in the learning stages, after all— and I won’t pretend schedules don’t still bother me sometimes. I’m not an organized person at all— probably part of the reason I started out pantsing— and so the idea of a schedule can be a bit difficult to wrap my head around and accept. 😛

        I’ll stick with it, though, because I do want to be in this for the long haul.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          The more I learn about personalities (Myers-Briggs fan), the more I realize that different methods are best for different people. The whole concept of schedules and organization are practically hard-wired into me (so, of course, I think they’re the best way!). But they don’t always work for others (or at least not in the same way). You have to find the balance of organization and spontaneity that works for you.

          • Joe Long says:

            According to one site, the most compatible mates for an INTP are ENTJ and ENFJ, who combined only make up 5% of the population (if only I realized when I was younger that a good woman was so hard to find!) My wife is an ENTJ, and my heroine looks like an ENFJ. Off to do some background research for my character…

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

            Sounds like no coincidence to me! 😉

          • Your responses throughout this discussion are so supportive. Thanks for bringing up Myers-Briggs. I have many books in print and I have never outlined. I have an intuitive sense of the book complete in my hand and just start writing. No surprise my MB occurs in only 1% of the population. I’m noting this so those outliers who can’t work with outlines know it works best for the majority, but some of us just feel blocked working that way.

            Similarly, the research supporting the process reveals in piles of books, papers, and notes on the floor.

            The only time I got in trouble was while writing a mystery. Toward the end I recalled a detail that forced me to rethink who committed the murder. The result was a more interesting plot.

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

            Of course, now you’ve piqued my MBTI radar. :p INFJ?

  3. Well, I’m looking forward to those hallelujahs one day. Great post, definitely meets a dire need among the ever-growing graveyard of writers. I’ve wanted to throw in the towel too, but I definitely don’t want to be six feet deep incomplete. Let’s get er’ done hun! I really like this post. It speaks to so many suffering writers out there who are having “pathological” diseases hindering their dreams! I almost want to write a book about it.

    On the flip side, I’m more motivated to finish my project than ever. Your starting to rub off on me. I’m writing more consistently in smaller chunks that’s helping me build momentum. And you know what I said to myself yesterday? You can do this! You can actually do this!

    I want to finish my WIP then I’d like to also consider some non-fiction projects as well. It’s really growing on me. I’d really like to take my writing to the next level of being a career instead of some hobby I enjoy. But I need to have an actionable plan, break it down into priorities (which is real work for me).

    Still plugging through one of your massive posts from last week with all of the associated links and came across the 6 ways to Outline faster. It was great! It’s really starting to sink in.
    I found it very practical and helpful. Now I need to put in the work and make it happen.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      That’s so awesome that you’re finding a consistent schedule that works for you! Being consistent can be incredibly hard in the beginning, but once you have the framework in place, it gets easier every single day you do it.

  4. Wow, I have learned so much from you since I started following you. I think I’ve suffered from many of these problems, but willpower I have a lot of that. I have looked at my book and can see so much wrong with it, but I can see the good in it to. Thanks for your most valuable advice and words of wisdom. Every time I read these posts I learn, therefore my work improves.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Willpower is the secret ingredient that will get you through just about any problem. Master that and you’re already halfway to success!

  5. Thank you for writing this and putting it all in one place.

    I am a writer and always have been it seems, but never writing my dream – a novel. As an instructional designer, I write training materials, technical documentation, and other training-related copy. I also blog and write marketing copy. I write resumes for people and even contributed content to a Time-Life book. So, on a daily basis, I’m a writer.

    But I’ve never published a novel.

    Your post today lists almost every reason this is so. Until now, I’ve never brought a novel to full completion. I have a stack of ideas, many of which I have discarded. My current WIP has been posted to Scrivener (just bought it last week and THANK YOU SO MUCH for recommending it) and I’m developing the discipline I need to bring it to fruition. For the first time in my life, I have a complete first draft written.

    Now the hard work of rewriting this into something I want to send off to a publisher. I’ve still not crossed that line, but I’m working hard to get out of that 90% and I have you to thank for it. You’ve been an encouragement and inspiration all along the way, ever since I discovered your YouTube videos years ago.

    Keep up the good work of encouraging us and moving us forward.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      The good news is that as a career writer, you already have all the skills and good habits in place to transform your fiction writing as well!

      Great to hear you’re enjoying Scrivener. I love it to death, so it’s always great to hear others are getting good use out of it as well.

  6. Kate, do you remember the name of the book your mother read to you? It sounds like a great story.

  7. I got super excited when I saw this post, because it is exactly what I am struggling with at the moment. Only….a little different.

    In the book, there was a disaster that pushed one character over the edge, and a surprise twist that I wasn’t expecting with another character. Now the stage is set for the climax to fully unfold- indeed its already begun- BUT I have run into a HUGE problem. The Ending I had planned no longer seems… doable. Like I’m trying to frost a gingerbread house on a merry-go-round that’s being spun by a jet-pack. Not a pleasant feeling.
    I don’t know if this means that there is a problem with the Story. The structure, the characters, the Plot…. I reviewed it all quickly over the past few days and nothing seems inherently wrong with it (except a few unexplained shifts in location that are easy enough to fix, and maybe a dropped character that was patched back in….)
    So if the story no longer fits what was planned, what in the world am I supposed to do?

    • Kate Flournoy says:

      If I may make a suggestion… I’ve actually encountered this problem before. It usually means whatever you were trying to say with this story when you started out is no longer applicable— perhaps the theme has shifted, and the way you thought it was going to turn out won’t work because it no longer fits the natural progression of whatever it is you’re trying to say.

      I would suggest you figure out what the underlying message of the story has shifted to (if indeed it has shifted) and then work out an ending that will best highlight that and drive it home.

      Unless that’s not your problem, in which case feel free to ignore me! 😛 😉

      • That is an interesting thought. I don’t think that my theme has changed. But I will have to think about what will best highlight my theme- I hadn’t thought to come at it from that direction.

      • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

        Kate’s advice is spot-on. A story’s ending is all about the beginning–which is to say that, to be cohesive and resonant, the beginning *must* set up the ending. Sometimes (but not always), when the ending changes on you, the setup in the beginning no longer works. That would be the first thing I’d look at.

        After that, I’d take a step back from the story, get a pen and paper, and start asking yourself questions. Try to figure out what’s stalling you, what’s giving you that niggling feeling, what the first logical step forward should be.

        I’ve written more about alternate endings here: Why You Should Write More Than One Ending to Your Book

    • A member of my writing group has a novel she’s reworked over ten years. (She wrote others in between.) She always kept the ending. Until now. She loved what she had written but realized it did not fit her theme. So go with your intuition and think about what the story is arcing toward. Honor your feelings. The answer may be in the first pages.

  8. Catherine H. says:

    For me, it hasn’t been any of these things. It’s been major health issues. I’ve had to work through the summer the past two years just to try to to finish high school. Fortunately, I’m homeschooled, so life’s been slightly easier than it could have been. It also took me awhile to learn about story structure and to build up my characters and world. But I’m finally done with all of that and I should finished with my 45 chapter monstrosity by the end of the year. Yay! Then comes editing. Ho boy.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Very sorry to hear about your health difficulties. But kudos to you for persevering through them! Life likes to throw us curve balls. If we can learn to accept and navigate them, we eliminate 99% of the obstacles between us and successful writing.

  9. Brenna says:

    This post was helpful and encouraging. Like many of us, I am currently on the first draft of my first novel. It is awful right now, and I should be farther along than I am, but all of the reasons you mentioned keep getting in my way- especially life-distractions and new ideas. I am working on planning my next novel right now, because that work is more fun than the drafting and makes a good reward for working on my MS.

    The biggest motivator for me is that so many people know I’m writing a novel. If I don’t finish, they will probably find out. So I’m trucking along, hoping to be done in time to edit during July Camp NaNo.

    • Susan Howarth says:

      Hi Brenna – I find it very interesting that you said “The biggest motivator for me is that so many people know I’m writing a novel.”

      I’m about to start my first novel, and am terrified to tell people about it. I’m nervous that I’ll never finish it (for all the reasons mentioned in this blog!), and I feel like failing in private is better than failing in public. But perhaps I should reconsider…

      🙂

      • Brenna says:

        Things may be different for you, but the people I have told have been a great encouragement along the way. Also, I have enjoyed getting together with writing friends to work on and talk about our respective projects, and a few people have offered to beta read for me! I would suggest you share what you are doing, but be discerning and tell people you know will be supportive. If you risk failing publicly, there is the possibility you won’t fail at all, and at least you’ll have people to help you back on your feet if you do.

        • Susan Howarth says:

          Great advice – thank you!

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

            Really good thoughts. Accountability is important. It’s great when we can learn to be accountable to ourselves (fewer working pieces to deal with!), but bringing in a support group of family, friends, or other writers is an excellent way to motivate ourselves in a comparatively gentle way.

  10. Skyline says:

    I lost track. My poor little brain with all these ideas that I write down and the next day I can’t grab the connection again. I keep outlining and then I get to a key scene and I just HAVE to write this proto-dialogue. When I’m done I pat myself on my back but the next day I have forgotten the essence of it.

    My solution: Just like a developer has multiple, continuous build of the same software, I keep having new versions of my outline. I write something down and as soon as I stop immediately picking it up when I come back to it I start version 1.0.2 and summarize the points to simple and meaningful points. If I ever forget what that’s all about I can always go back to ver.1.0.1 and re-read the very primal thought of it. On the other hand whenever I go onward to ver.1.0.3 and the bullet point speaks to me immediately I just copy it.

    I used this method in my “Chain of Events” where I have listed all events I could foresee from an outlining point of view in a chronological order. I was always afraid to write something because it might be trash but on the other hand I was afraid to delete anything because there might be this ONE GEM I might need. After realizing that I can’t possibly fill my 2TB HDD with versions of the same draft, and even if I did I could just buy a second one, this was the best of both worlds. Continuous editing of “crap” while preserving the “gems”. Even If I overlooked them.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I used to have this theory that an idea wasn’t worth writing if I couldn’t remember it. Now having realized my memory is a lot shoddier than I thought it was 😉 , I no longer hold to this. *But* I do think there’s something to be said for giving an idea the chance to persist. Sometimes I’ll get an idea that I’m totally stoked about, but it’s like planting seeds in shallow dirt: they don’t grow. My best ideas are always those that stick around, year after year, growing and maturing within my imagination. When that happens, I know I’ll never lose the essence of the idea.

  11. I have the idea, I have had positive feedback and some criticism which I took on board and changed. I’ve even had a publisher interested in the finished product. So, why can’t I get it done? Your points have highlighted several reasons why. The publisher for instance, both of my novels have been pay to publish self publishers and the idea of paying through the nose for a book that doesn’t sell scares me. The first publisher wanted me to spend all sorts of money going to book fairs and the second, expected me to do all the donkey work. I did a lot of that but didn’t have the full time they expected me to have.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Frankly, I think you’re right to be wary of pay-to-publish self-publishing companies. If you decide to go the indie route, then I highly recommend publishing through CreateSpace, KDP, Nookpress, etc. Your only costs upfront are for the production itself: editing, cover design, formatting, etc. You have complete control over the process and you always know what you’re paying for.

  12. K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

    Thanks for reading!

  13. Rob Munro says:

    I never aspired to be a writer, I somehow seemed to be one already. In fact recently I re-penned a story I first wrote in full over thirty years ago when I was a tender eleven year old (based on an idea I had at age seven), and in the space of a mere three weeks, a new novel was born, revised, (self)edited and off to a literary agent for consideration.
    Where MY fears arise is lack of self-confidence, so pretty much everything I’ve written remains shelved, never published. That re-penned novel seems to have inadverdently volunteered as my first foray into the heady arena of practical measures towards publishing, so I’m still at the early stage of assessment by a literary agent rather than admiring a shelf full of my own work as someone who has written for nearly forty years might otherwise be doing.
    Thank you for the sage advice above. I can relate to all of it from one degree to another.
    I’ve investigated various options to get my work out there, and the traditional path via literary agent seems the most sensible and logical (and affordable). There seem to be numerous pay-up-front self-publish options, but I currently lack the various necessary pre-requisite resources to dive down that particular rabbit hole. Since literary agents tend to take a while, I must remain patient, but then given the time I’ve already given this particular passtime, it seems it’s not as if I’m in any rush anyway.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      What a cool story! I love that your childhood attempts at writing are what inspired your adult resumption of the dream. You’re right that finding a literary agent can take time. But if that’s route you feel most comfortable following, hang in there. Some people collect dozens of rejections over several year before finding the perfect fit.

      • Rob Munro says:

        There’s another two manuscripts queued up and ready to send if that literary agent is not keen on the first one. They’ve suggested keep sending submissions until they find one they like, and then they’ll reconsider the previous ones they rejected. I have no trouble re-working anything I do to better fit marketplace necessities, but to do that properly I need an editor, whether it’s one allocated by the agent or one I find independently (though I lack the resources to pay them), who knows the market better than me (not hard, I’m mostly house-bound and tend to read too diversely to be able to assess what’s current).
        As for persisting with the literary agent path, I’ve read too many scare stories about self-publishing to have any confidence in that direction. Like I said, I’m largely house-bound, lack the necessary up-front financial resources, and don’t travel (health issues), which seems to be a necessary component of promotions etc. I need to delegate, which is where agents come in.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          There are a lot of people who have had great success with independent publishing (for example, it’s treated me well). But it’s definitely not a route to be attempted without forethought. It’s not an easy path to success, anymore than is traditional publishing.

          It’s important to know what you want out of a publishing experience and which route is most likely to provide it. For many people, that best route is still going to be traditional publishing. I wish you all the best with it!

  14. Number 5 for sure. I’d read great books and think, “My story is not as good as it would be if Awesome Author X were writing it.”

    I’m not sure how I figured out that I’d have to keep practicing 🙂

    I finished my first real novel at 18, when I was temping as a receptionist. Passion + So many hours to fill = Finished.

    But I spent years revising the book while working on other books that I came close to finishing but didn’t. All due to fear of not being as good as I wanted to be. So I kept learning.

    Columbia College Chicago’s fiction writing program helped. They used the workshop method, which meant beta readers right there in class. And the teachers were all published, so they taught about industry stuff, too. It helped me level up.

    I worked on flaws, got a cool rejection letter for a short story (I should frame it). I tried out for a work-for-hire YA novel by the company that produces the “Warrior Cats” series. The editors loved my descriptions, which was once a weakness. They offered a contract. Practice!

    I’ve finished two out of three books in the trilogy I’m writing. I’m not scared, because practice pays off: my current beta readers are saying everything I’d hoped for. They’re also confirming my instincts for when something isn’t working.

    If fear is holding you back I advise keeping track of your victories, however small they may be — the rejection letter *did* say the story was good. You will get “there” so long as you don’t lie to yourself that you’re terrible and can never get better.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I am in so much agreement with this. Truly, practicing is the only way to actually improve at writing. Someone once said you have to write a million words of dreck before you can get anywhere. I believe it.

  15. Timothy Burbage says:

    First of all, I have been reading your blog for a few months and I have found it a great read.

    I started my WIP in January, inspired by the news a friend has had a book published. ***The Girl of Ink and Stars, check it out*** I had had an idea floating in my head for about 7 years, just something ethereal in my mind. I decided that if she could write a novel, so could I.

    The first thing I did was temper my own expectations. Rome wasn’t built in a day. I looked up what a reasonably short book length was and thought 60,000 words was doable. I thought I could do 40 quite short chapters and go between 3 main characters throughout each chapter. I created an Excel tracker and kept breaking it up into bite size chunks. I set myself a target of 300 words a day, and appreciated that writing took a long time.

    I had the beginning and the end outlined quite strongly in my mind before starting. Using my enthusiasm early on, I put a lot more outline in place to the following chapters. While writing chapter 1 I outlined chapters 2-4 and so on. I then caught the outlining bug and tried outlining the whole novel and came across an issue. It came to 32 chapters, and at the length of chapter I was writing that would be way too short. I had a bit of a crisis and thought I couldn’t come up with a complete story.

    What I did was stop outlining and kept chugging along with my earlier chapters. I wrote chapters 3, 4, 5 and still couldn’t think of a strong middle. Then chapters 6 and 7. I read your articles on structure and it really helped me. This then sparked ideas in my head and I could quickly outline to a mid-point in Chapter 20. The next issue was that I couldn’t think of anything between 20-30. I knew how my book wanted to end, just not how to get there. In movies this was simply done with a Rocky-style training montage.

    What I did was stop outlining and kept chugging along with my earlier chapters. Writing chapters 10-13 I came up with the outline for chapters 20-30. I decided to split up my MCs and really enjoyed outlining that third quarter of the book. This joy at finding out what will happen to my MCs was fuelling my enjoyment of writing. I was exceeding my targets every week and each chapter was getting longer and longer. More descriptions, more dialogue, showing not telling. I also felt like my writing style was starting to emerge.

    Right now I have just finished chapter 16, and I have chapters 30-40 lightly outlined. In the next couple of weeks I will outline the ending in more depth. I don’t want to do it too early, or else I won’t get that boost of endorphins when I need it. With the increase of my proficiency my 1st draft is due to be 70000 words plus (a target I never thought I would reach) and I am really enjoying it. Whenever I go through a bit of a lull I outline a bit more, or think about sequels, and that joy of ideas I then put into my writing. I need to feel the joy of success to motivate myself, and succeeding at lots of little goals really helps.

    I am due to finish my 1st draft 3 months early (and it’s coming forwards all of the time) and I am really enjoying writing the middle. I am actually starting to feel like a writer!

    I know that there will be times when I am not motivated to write in the future, I am planning on saving things that I enjoy (outlining, coming up with sequel ideas etc.) until I am in a lull and that small victory will hopefully boost me up 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      This is fabulous! I love how you’ve created a plan for success, broken it down into digestible bites, and made it work as adjustments became necessary. You’re a model for us all.

  16. “Are you logically and reasonably identifying story problems? Or are you just in one of those moods where you feel like a failure? A writer’s gut instinct is a powerful thing, but if you can’t find a concrete (code for: fixable) reason for hating your manuscript this morning, then stop beating yourself up over nothing and get back to work.”

    Wow. This speaks so much to me. It’s such a powerful reminder to stick to the facts. Sometimes, I get in these “self doubt” moods. It’s great to remember that one of the best things you can do is either turn the whine into a solution, or simply stop pouting about it. Good words!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I think we all delve into those dark moods occasionally. In all aspects of life, I often get these “niggles” that something is wrong. I have to stop and think about it sometimes to even identify what I’m upset about. But as soon as I do, I can immediately evaluate whether it’s a realistic stress or fear. If it is, I can expunge it and move on, like untying knot. If not, then I can work on logical solutions. Either way, naming the problem is halfway to solving it.

  17. Excellent post. I’ve written and published two novels, and I teach creative writing classes and inspire my writers to WRITE ON, needing someone to inspire ME every once in a while. You did that here. The main take away for me is to use outlining more…and better. My first book took me 7 years to write (no outline and about 20 drafts). I loved where the characters took me, but it took forever. The second book (co-authored) was a 6-month start-to-finish deal, because we OUTLINED. Although I prefer character-driven books, not plot-driven, the outline sure does help. Sigh. I’ve been working on my third book for 6 months now. Just starting the outline. Yikes!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Glad you found the post encouraging! The key thing to remember in the “war” between plot-driven stories and character-driven stories is that, really, there’s no such thing as either. There are only stories with plots *and* characters. Done well, plot and character are inextricable, so you never have to sacrifice one to the other. Character creates plot; plot guides character.

  18. Max Woldhek says:

    So few people finish their book?!

    I had this idea for a book in my head for year, even wrote a couple thousand words around 2010, and a few thousand more in 2014. The main problem, in hindsight, is that I can be really, really hard on myself. I thought that it was going to suck, that there was no way it would be readable, etc etc. Then I started finding quotes like this:

    “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.”
    – Terry Pratchett

    “The first draft of anything is shit.”
    – Ernest Hemingway

    Something said “click” in my head, and I started writing seriously in September 2015. Granted, I’m unemployed so I have way too much time on my hands (shitty youth employment situation plus Autism Spectrum Disorder equal few suitable vacancies), but enough time wasn’t enough; I had to get disciplined. I tried to get 1000 words written every day, whether I felt “inspired” or not, and eventually that got to around 2000 words a day. End result: First draft of 110.000 pages finished in December. Currently half-way through the first draft of my second book.

    I’m still learning how the whole outline thing works, but I do know roughly where the story is going. One of the first things I wrote when doing my first book was part of the epilogue.
    When I write a chapter, first I make notes in a separate document about what’s going to happen. Example:

    “Roifena is conducting a little spring cleaning, torturing the lackey who organized the foolish attack on Svala.
    Radu and Goris show up, Goris sweating profusely. He explains that some of his people went rogue, having come up with some hare-brained plain to cast a spot-light on the Stalwarts by killing Svala.
    Roifena is pissed off, including at herself, since she focused so much attention on the Telquatani that she forgot that Goris’s idealists could mess up.”

    I describe the whole chapter in that way. I may change my mind about some parts, but at least I know roughly what is happening.

    Shockingly, when reading through the stuff I’ve written I mostly don’t hate it. Maybe that means it’s good, or maybe I’m just oblivious to the glaring flaws. 😀

    • Max Woldhek says:

      110.000 words, not pages! Gah!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Mostly not hating it is a good sign. 😀 Although we should never let our love of our “darlings” get in the way of our ability to be objective about a book, there’s also no reason we can’t see its objective strengths as well.

  19. darkocean says:

    This is suck a good posting. All the problems with this book continues to circle back to the lack of having an outline. When I started I knew nothing about writing, what kind of a writer I was (I don’t know there were different kinds.) The next book is getting at least a light outline to help with those ‘bumps’. Expecually eh ending . omg .. endings are HARD. Not only does it needs to be ;like a gigantic lighting bolt (imop) and sizzle the needs need to be tied up, questions answered, and be satisfying. Can I cry now? I got to finish it though some how. I have actual fans on wattpad , and am getting more every day so thats added pressure to finish it. EEKK! I never expected this to get popular, @_@;;; I joined that site to get help from the cridics there.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Don’t beat yourself up too much. Your popularity on Wattpad is a sign you know what you’re doing! It’s never too late in the process to sit down and do a little outlining (or as I generally call it at that point “brainstorming”).

  20. Great post, as always. I believe both the beginning and ending can make or break a book. I know of some writers who struggle in finishing their books. One’s passion and dedication for writing plus your valuable pieces of advice are the best 1-2 punch for a promising writing career. Thanks again!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Passion is the trump card. It sees us through all the discouragements, resistance, and naysaying!

  21. I suffer from a number of the problems that you accurately demonstrate, most of all getting side-tracked by new ideas. Each time I finish a first draft I tend to move on. Result: six draft novels at various stages. In some cases I can discard them for now, for reasons like: sequel to failed debut, requires prequel/backstory, critique created insurmountable problems, and dead-end idea. But I am wavering between two projects, and I’m no longer sure which is the one that I should be working one.

    My third attempt at a novel, a mystery/thriller, has been through about three drats, the last one changing the setting to where I live. The characters are strongly developed, I have a detailed outline, and I now have the input that it needed from local police. So it moved into pole position.

    But that was at the expense of an anthology of linked tales, written over the last sixteen years. However, that has evolved into three books and only the first is written. Also my critique partners threw up some crucial questions, like too many changing POVs from story to story, voice & tense, confused climax. I’m not sure where to begin on the POVs as each story is a different aspect of the overall tale. And with more to come, the problems could get worse.

    So tackling the mystery thriller was taking the easy option. Or was it giving up?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Honestly? I can’t say. Only you can say that. But if you feel like your string of unfinished novels were abandoned for unjustified reasons, then the only thing you can do is move forward from here. Finish *this* book and start a new personal trend.

  22. Emerson says:

    My experience is “Accept that sometimes you need to take a short break.” There are times in which all you can see are problems and you just keep throwing yourself, bloodying your body against a wall. When that happens, give yourself a week or two off. Take long walks, read other books, and work on other projects, but don’t open the Problem one until your break has passed.

    That strategy worked so many times for me. I’d get to the point where I just hated every word of my story, thought it was all ugliness, and I should burn it, lest human eyes gaze upon it. Taking a few weeks off really helps. I’d feel a sense of dread at first, when I reopened the file after my break, I’d remember how much I hated it and wonder if I want to go through with it again, but what usually winds up happening is I start reading it and going, “Y’know what? This isn’t that bad. Yeah, it’s got its flaws, but has a lot of good stuff as well, and the flaws aren’t so bad that they can’t be fixed.” And from there, I figure out how to fix the flaws and keep going.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I totally agree with this. My general approach to life is to try to smash through problems with sheer willpower. And it works 90% of the time! But it also leaves wreckage in its wake. There comes a point where the only solution is simply to step back and give yourself some breathing space to recover.

  23. “There’s a difference between having the occasional bad day (or even month) with a project you love–and having completely lost the spark.”

    This is a very important point. When the spark is really gone, it’s OK to walk away without guilt. The time writing it certainly wasn’t wasted, you will bring the experience with you to the next project.

  24. Those are good points. I tried writing a mystery story and somehow, I just wanted to finish it and get it overwith. If I’m correct, in reality, writing takes time. No need to rush it.

  25. This is a great post. I really got a lot of encouragement here, and from some of the comments. My biggest problem is “story creep.” I originally published my novel through CreateSpace, got a few bad reviews, and so . . . decided to maybe objectively l0ok for problems in the manuscript with fresh eyes. And I found them. Boy did I find them. (Lack of dramatic tension, thin characters, no real middle act, etc.) Basically, all of them stemmed from not having followed an outline or any sort of plan, and my general newbie-ness in the realm of novel-writing. So, I retracted the book — pulled it off of Amazon entirely — and set about rewriting it completely from scratch, with the same premise and ideas and characters, but this time from an outline, with purpose and a plan, and with an eye toward developing some real dramatic tension and three-dimensional characters, as well as a bunch of better ways to do things after some careful study of a few of my favorite authors and how *they* do things in their books. Fast forward nine months later, to today, and I’ve added something like 10 new characters, three or four of whom have their own arcs, 5 or 6 new main plot threads, 3 or 4 new subplots, and 100k added to the word count of the original. Granted, I’m not exactly *complaining* about this — I love the fact that I’ve transformed this less-than-impressive, reeks-of-newbie rough first effort into this massive, polished, epic work of weird science-fantasy, and that it’s shaping up to be a LOT better — in terms of story, plot, characters, everything — than it ever was in its original incarnation . . . but, my problem has become one of having “probably bitten off more than I can chew.” The problem of my ambitions outpacing my ability to pull them off. So, I get discouraged with it at times, and feel as though I’ll never be able to finish thee sucker . . . it’s gotten a lot bigger in scope than I originally wanted it to, and that outline I mentioned? Well, that’s grown as the manuscript has grown — it’s about forty pages long now, with lots of comments and notes added to it. I can still follow it, but egads, is it ever big now. I feel like I’ve taken on the construction of a small planet as opposed to just terraforming a tiny moon somewhere. I suppose I’ll EVENTUALLY be done with it, but, yeah . . . beware the “story creep.”

  26. But I don’ t need info why I cannot write an ending. I need info HOW I figure out the ending :(((

  27. Writing the two novels wasn’t the problem. A sheer joy! Nor finishing them. I just can’t stop editing my babies…and while 98% of it is now polishing, I’m still finding the stray typo (a verb in the wrong tense, a missing hyphen or unnecessary one).

    Two weeks ago I excised almost a thousand words out of the 88-K manuscript just by eliminating adverbs. It was a good move; tightened the manuscript up. But I am fatigued with the proofreading. I need an editor (especially a developmental one), but they are so expensive!

    Thanks for your encouraging words. I’m just going to have to let go of the illusion that I’m gonna get this thing perfect…Just. Let. Go.

  28. Ms. Albina says:

    K.M., I am doing my co-author book and doing scenes for book 2. How would you show a character writes a letter since where my characters live there is no technology only magic? They have quill, parchment paper and ink to write letters on and also have a writing desk. Do you number your scenes when you write like for chapter 1 and so on? Do you put chapter headings in your book? Example:

    Chapter 1-Oracle

    On planet Avanaria northeast of Elda Lamore Island there was a special place called Oracle Island. Sky scraping mountains, lush trees, a crystal blue river, and a crescent bay graced the heart-shaped island. Leilani’s aunt Lorelei lived on Oracle Island with her family. Inside their modest rustic cottage, Lorelei sat her desk and took out parchment, ink and a quill. She wrote a long letter to her dear nieces, Leilani, Kaia, and Kiana for whom she felt great fondness.

    In her letter to Leilani, Lorelei wrote, “ I am coming with my husband and children and we hope to stay for a couple of months. “ When Lorelei was finished with the second letter, she gathered supplies that she would need for the trip and then, about three days later, they left Oracle Island to visit Elda Lamore Island. So, they swam off to Elda Lamore Island and it took the better part half a day to get there. Lorelei and family arrived at Elda Lamore Island late just as sinking twin suns painted the water and sky gold and peach. Their mother, Lorelei had long raven hair that cascades down her back and dark indigo eyes. She had a bronze skin tone and a turquoise and amethyst colored fishtail when wet.

    This book may have twenty six chapters. Do you put breaks in your chapters? Do you show and not tell when you write?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Simply put the letter in quotes, as you’ve done. And, yes, I number each of my chapters as I write them.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Weiland has 6 tips to help you finish your book, Kristen Lamb lists 5 reasons your story is stuck, and Janice Hardy has a 2-part series on getting […]

  2. […] Here is that article on writing I promised you. It is from K.M. Weiland. I visit her page a few times a week. She has good stuff, this is just one of them. Check it out. Six tips to Help You Finish Your Book […]

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