“For your born writer, nothing is so healing as the realization that he has come upon the right word.”
—Catherine Drinker Bowen

Why You Can’t Finish Writing Your Book

In a poll we conducted, seventy-two percent of people told us they struggle finishing the writing projects they start.

Why is it so hard to finish writing a book? And how can you be among the few who actually do finish?

Want to write a book? Sign up for our free 3-part series beginning next week on how to write a book in a month. It will only be available next week, so sign up now. Sign me up »

Why You Can't Finish Writing Your Book

This post continues the conversation I started earlier this week about how to write a book in a month.

Yes, Writing a Book Is Really Hard

I’ve been coaching small groups of writers as they finish their books. At the beginning of each new group, I tell them, “Writing a book is hard. It’s probably one of the hardest things you’ll ever do.”

“You were right,” they always tell me a few weeks later when they’re deep into their first drafts. “I didn’t really believe you before, but this is really hard!”

It’s no secret writing a book is hard, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible or that you can’t do it.

The 3 Reasons You Can’t Finish Writing Your Book

However, there are also things many people fail to do that make finishing their books much more difficult.

Why can’t you finish writing your book? It likely has to do with one of these three reasons:

1. You don’t have a plan.

An idea isn’t enough, even a great idea, a ground breaking idea, an idea that will change literature forever.

You have to have a plan. Every writer I meet has a dozen great ideas. However, an idea is not the same as a plan.

There are some who resist this idea of having a plan. They just want to see where the stories go, they say. They’re free spirits, “artistic types.”

And yet, even these anti-outlining pantsers have some kind of a plan, whether they admit to it or not. It may not be written down, and it might not be very good, but they have one.

The bare minimum plan for your book is a premise. A premise is the main idea of a book. In fiction—and especially screenwriting—the premise is also called a logline, a one-sentence summary of the protagonist, main conflict, and setting. In non-fiction, the premise is the central argument you’re making in the book.

If you’re uncomfortable with planning. You don’t have to write your premise down. You can even change your premise as you write your story (although, I wouldn’t be wary of that). In other words:

A plan is a starting point, not a commitment.

As general Eisenhower said,

[P]lans are useless, but planning is indispensable.

If you want to take planning to the next step, here are two planning methods for novelists:

  • Snowflake Method. A system invented by author Randy Ingram where you begin with a simple one sentence story (i.e. a premise) and expand it over several steps into fully-fledged novel.
  • Story Grid. A writing and editing system developed by veteran editor Shawn Coyne that uses the Foolscap Method and its six questions: 1. What’s the Genre? 2. What are the conventions and obligatory scenes for that Genre? 3. What’s the point of view? 4.What are the protagonist’s objects of desire? 5.What’s the controlling idea/theme? 6. What is the Beginning Hook, the Middle Build, and Ending Payoff?

We’ll be talking about each of these methods in more detail in our series on how to write a book beginning October 13. If you want more help developing the plan for your book, make sure you sign up here.

2. You don’t have a team.

No writer is an island.

As I’ve studied the lives of great writers, one thing has stood out to me: great writers were friends with other great writers.

If you think you can write a book relying solely on your own willpower and without the support of others, you’re kidding yourself.

How do you get a team? Here are three things you can work on today:

Get buy in from your family and friends. The people closest to you will have a huge impact on your writing success.

In my own life, I noticed a shift in my self-confidence and productivity when my father stopped criticizing me and started praising my writing. He went from being skeptical of my writing to my biggest fan, and it made a huge difference in my output.

I would never have succeeded at starting The Write Practice and keeping it going those first, lonely years without my wife. I can remember having nervous breakdowns nearly every week, but she believed in me throughout, kept me focused, and helped me keep going.

If you want to finish your book, get your family and friends on your side. They’ll believe in you even when you stop believing in yourself.

Create relationships with other writers. There’s no greater motivation to get writing than hearing that one of your friends just finished their book, or got a publishing contract, or hit a bestseller list.

If you don’t have relationships with other writers, make them. Go to a writing conference (this one should be fun, use our code wicon2015twp for $50 off). Join an online writing community. Do something, because friendships with other good writers are as valuable as gold.

Share your struggles. It’s okay to not have your book figured out. It’s normal to hit a period of writer’s block. You’re not a bad writer if your book gets into trouble.

But failing to share what you’re struggling with is foolish.

This is the whole reason to have a team, so you can get help when you need it. Be vulnerable. Share your struggles.

3. You don’t have a rhythm.

Several years ago, I began writing every day. I didn’t always write a lot. It was just important that I wrote. Every day.

Sometimes I missed a day. Inevitably, the next day it would be twice as hard to write.

Then, about six months into my daily writing habit, I missed three days in a row. It was devastating. I didn’t write again for months.

Yes, writing is hard. However, it’s much easier once you’ve made it second nature, once writing is so ingrained into your daily rhythm it’s almost harder to avoid it than do it.

If you want to finish your book, make a commitment to writing every day.

Some other obstacles to writing rhythm:

  • Lack of practice. The good news: writing gets easier over time!
  • Perfectionism. Perfect can wait for the final draft. Just write.
  • Not having a plan. Your plan helps you remember what to write next.

Finish Writing Your Book with Us

Isn’t it time to finally finish your book?

We’re teaching an exclusive, free series to help you finish writing a book. It starts October 13, and it’s only available to people who sign up here:

Sign me up for the series, How to Write a Book in a Month here »

See you for the series!

How about you? Have you had trouble finishing writing your book?  Let me know in the comments section.


For today’s practice, first, make sure you sign up for our series on how to write a book here.

Second, I want you to think through what working on your book every day would look like. Where will writing fit into your schedule? Whose support and buy in will you need to get (e.g. your spouse, your parents, your friends)?

Write down a quick schedule for where writing will fit into your day. Then, write down who you need to convince that your book and your writing is important.

Last, if you feel like you’re ready, commit to writing a book with us in November. We’re going to be doing a community event around NaNoWriMo where we make our books our top focus and we’d love to have you.

About Joe Bunting

Joe Bunting is a writer and entrepreneur. He is the author of the #1 Amazon Bestseller Let's Write a Short Story! and the co-founder of Story Cartel. You can follow him on Twitter (@joebunting).

  • seth_barnes

    Thanks for helping me finish my book, Joe. You applied these lessons with excellence!

    • Yours was the first book I ever worked on, Seth. And it changed my life. Thank you for taking a risk on an unproven writer.

  • LaCresha Lawson

    It is hard to start and it is hard to end.

    • Indeed it is, LaCresha. It’s even harder to end, though, if you don’t start. 😉

  • Debbie A Lane

    For me writing the last 2 chapters was the most difficult. I wanted to make sure I left the reader feeling like she or he read an amazing story.

    • Ryan

      Nothing like trying to write a masterpiece to make the process more difficult! It makes sense that you wanted to have a strong ending.

  • Ryan

    Consistency is key… Once you have momentum in a writing project, it’s pretty easy to press onward. All it takes is a little neglect to bring the project to a halt. The neglect can be brought on by doubt, unexpected events, lack of concentration, laziness, etc. When I do attempt to jump back into a writing project, it sometimes feels like the flow of my writing has been interrupted over my absence, and it’s hard to get back into that smooth rhythm. That’s why I love writing short stories; they’re much faster to complete, leaving less time for abandonment! I’m looking forward to this upcoming conference for sure.

    • So true, Ryan. What did Annie Dillard say in The Writing Life? Writing is like a houseplant but when you leave it unattended it takes over the room? That’s probably not even close, but I have an image in my head like that associated with her book.

  • Debbie A Lane

    I am a new writer and new to this site Ryan where is the conference?

    • Hi Debbie. I don’t know Ryan or where the conference is, but welcome to The Write Practice and to writing in general! It’s great to have you. 🙂

      • Debbie A Lane

        Thanks Joe!

  • AM

    I don’t usually comment on posts (though I read every one), but I just wanted to say that I’m really glad you’re making posts around NaNoWriMo. This is the first year I’ve been eligible to do it, age-wise, so it’s my first time, and I’m grateful these posts are here to help me through it. Only critique: it’s and its are not the same thing. Sorry, but word switches (like affect and effect) drive me up the walls. Literally.

    • Fantastic! It will be fun to have you along for the ride.

      And thank you for catching that AM. It’s been fixed! 😉 I’m very aware of the difference, but they do sometimes slip through my proofreading cracks. I appreciate you pointing it out.

      Thanks for commenting!

  • LilianGardner

    Being a part of TWP is inspiring me to write, whenever I can, sometimes daily, and other times on free weekends. I appreciate all posts from TWP and regret that I don’t always comment.
    However, I’m at a loss in not having anyone near (real) with whom to share my work. People in my small town don’t speak English. Fortunately I have members on TWP, but I must be more active.
    I’m half-way through a novel, and after revising and polishing, I’ll ask other writers, on line, if they will read it and give me feedback.
    I’ve signed up for ‘How to Write a Book in a Month’, and can’t wait to begin.
    Thanks for this free opportunity.

    • allyn211

      Where do you live, Lilian?

      • LilianGardner

        I live in Italy, in the Po delta, about seventy kilometers south of Venice.
        I love living here. People are friendly though reserved, and their English is purely scholastic.
        Where do you live, allyn211?

        • allyn211

          Atlanta area, USA. 🙂

  • allyn211

    I”m having a rough time getting into a rhythm, especially on Saturdays. That’s when we usually do our household chores. I have a child with autism who, as part of his routine, uses Saturdays to catch up on shows he’s missed during the week. We’re trying to get a handle on our finances, and there are things that need to be done in the house daily. I also have a number of health concerns. This Tuesday, I go get a mouth guard to help treat TMJ. The next day, I go to a chiropractor to get my back worked on due to chronic back pain. Thursday, I have yet another appointment. I meet weekly with a ladies’ church group (and I need their fellowship!) Also, this Monday, my son has a dental appointment. I keep a calendar. My main problem, I guess, is the mental/emotional stress all the “stuff” causes.

    • LilianGardner

      allyn211, you are so brave. I’ll remeber you and your family in my prayers. I hope you’ll have free time to do the things you like doing.

  • allyn211

    I’ve also done NaNo several times, and I may need to use NaNo to propel me further along with my current WIP!

  • My biggest problem is that although I have 3 books published, my family still thinks of it as my little hobby and not a serious occupation. Consequently they continually interrupt me and expect me to drop my writing for other things. It doesn’t work to say that I’m working because my income from writing is almost negligible so they think my writing is unimportant.

    So getting family on board is a big problem. Friends too, don’t seem to be unduly concerned about it either. Only 2 have bought one of my books. (The first one I published). I wish I could get over this problem, but unless I suddenly hit the big time (unlikely, I know), then finding time to write every day, and getting support from family and friends seems to also be unlikely. I do try to write every day though, but frequently fail.

  • Pingback: 5 Cool Articles and Links on Writing (10/10/15) | KW()

  • Sumeet Thakur

    Whether i will write a book or not, but these stuffs are really cooperative. And strongly hope to get these more and more, that will assist me doing various papers. Thanks for your support.

  • I agree that devising a plan can be a huge help, for some. Same with having a team. I personally believe discipline is the most vital—you can miss a day, or two, or not have a stable of other writers to connect with—but discipline can push you through all of that.

  • Christine

    As for finding a time to write, I guess that wouldn’t be hard if I’d redirect the two first hours of the day I normally spend reading what others have written on their blogs. Of course I fear no one would notice I was gone! 😉

    Finding local friend/family supporters may be a whole ‘nother story. my dear one’s first reaction when I brought up Nanowrimo was, “Forget it!” 🙂

  • Brilliant advice – thanks. I’m in the middle of reading The Story Grid right now and I’m loving it. Absolutely agree that you need a plan so you can break down the big tasks into smaller chunks!


  • Lucy

    All of this is so true! I’ll be attempting Nanowrimo for the third time this year, and I’m determined to do better. The first year, I tried to pants it with no plan. The second year, I was crippled by perfectionist-itus and really didn’t get very far at all. This year, I’m going to have an outline to work with. My big problem is that I’m a Grade 10 – 12 teacher, and while I have time to write, I don’t always have the mental energy to solve the tangles my characters seem to insist on getting into!

    Thanks for the advice 🙂

  • EmFairley

    Thanks Joe! My book is coming along and I’ve decided to try and get it finished by the end of November, so thanks for the challenge!

  • Lady Bird

    Thanks for your planning methods I’ll definitely use them! While writing I usually use this tool http://www.coolutils.com/TiffCombine which is the best of its kind. Hopefully with your tips I’ll finish my book this year)

  • Tanya Chamain

    On the third draft right now. I am still tweaking and applying the advice I have gotten from you. Trying to get published is something that freaks me out though!