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Six Tips for Actually Finishing your Novel

You always hear about how many writers give up at the querying stage, but you know what stage of the writing and publishing process loses INFINITELY more writers? The actual ‘writing the book’ stage. I can’t even tell you how many people I have met since “going public” as a writer who tell me they have a great idea for a novel they have been meaning to write whenever they get the time. Or how many writers I know who always seem to be starting a Shiny New Idea instead of finishing the project they were working on last month.

Harsh words, but in order to sell a book you have to start writing it… and then you have to finish writing it. Simple enough, right? Okay, well here’s the obvious part - it’s a hell of a lot more difficult than it sounds.

I won’t pretend to be perfect in this area - I definitely have projects I’ve abandoned part way through, or set aside in hopes of picking them up later - but on the whole, I’m pretty damn consistent in finishing what I start. So I’m going to share six useful tips for getting motivated, getting started, and finishing your drafts!

  1. Make Time. Every time I hear someone saying they would write their Future Bestseller if only they had the time, I want to snort-laugh and/or punch them in the face. I too am a Busy Adult with a Day Job and Life Things to do. The time to write a novel doesn’t just appear on a platter for you. You have to make that time. Stay up late after the kids are in bed, wake up early on your day off, take a personal day, write on your lunch break, I don’t know. But if you want to write a book, you need to make the time to do it.

  2. Have a Game Plan. For me, my game plan is my intense outline, but not everyone is a plotter and I know that. Still, if you want to make sure you finish your book, the best way to build and keep momentum is to know what you’re working on before you sit down for the day. If you’re a Pantser I would just recommend that you never end a writing day at the end of a scene or chapter. Jot down a few sentences of the next scene before calling it quits so when you sit down tomorrow you have something already flowing to grab hold of and run with!

  3. Relax, Already. It’s a first draft, folks. News flash: it’s not going to be perfect. There are going to be some sections that you know are trash while you’re writing them. So what? Barf the words out today, no matter how messy. You can always edit them next draft. I will have entire weeks where I am certain everything I wrote that week is garbage… but it’s easier to find a few treasures in a pile of garbage than it is to find them on a blank page, am I right?

  4. Set Attainable Goals. This is probably the most important tip of all. Writing a whole-ass book is an impossible, Herculean feat. It’s like, three hundred pages of words you have to INVENT? Out of thin air? HOW?! Break it up into chunks, guys. Everyone writes at a different pace, so your ‘doable chunk’ will vary depending on your writing style, your schedule, and a thousand other things. If I’m not that busy with other things in my life I like to try to hit 8,000 words a week. Averages to a little over a thousand a day. If things are crazier I’ll drop the goal down to maybe 500 words a day. Maybe 300. Here’s the secret: As long as your goal is higher than zero words a day you will eventually finish the damn thing.

  5. Stuck? Switch Things Up. Ahh, the dreaded Writer’s Block. Now, it’s possible to totally burn out, I know that, and when that happens, taking a day or two off can be awesome for your entire soul. But I’m not talking about that - I’m talking about regular stuck. Like, you’re staring at the blinking cursor and have no idea what to do next. When that happens, take it offline! Go old-school, write things out with a pen and paper for a while! Or, switch up your font. I know some folks who draft in Comic Sans because it makes them take themselves less seriously. Anything that helps shake you out of the rut you’re stuck in. Do you, boo.

  6. Beware the Shiny New Idea. There is a particular siren song I think every writer knows. The song of that brand new story idea. You know the one, the project that is PERFECT in every way. It’s just screaming for you to write it - after all, it’s so much fresher and prettier than the mire and muck of the draft you’re in now... Let me put your mind at ease: that new idea is only pretty because you haven’t started writing it yet. As soon as you start actually working on that Shiny New Idea, it will quickly get just as muddied and messy as the draft you’re in now. So, jot down that idea in a notebook and save it for later. But don’t take the bait!

Things happen, life is busy, and writing a book is hard. But hopefully these tips will help you find a writing groove you can stick with all the way through ‘The End’!

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