This is the second lesson in our three-part series on Get Unstuck and Finish Your Book. See Part I: The Cold Truth to Writing Your Book here.
A lot of people talk about writing books, but very few finish them. I've seen the pattern so many times it's become something of a ritual.
Someone gets a great idea for a book. They tell everyone, “I'm going to write a book! Here's my idea! Isn't it great?” They write the first chapter, start the second. They stay strong for a few days or even a few weeks.
But then something happens.
They have plans and have to take the night off. Or they miss their alarm and sleep through their morning writing session. Now that the momentum is broken, everything gets so much harder. They lose the train of their plot and forget a few of their amazing ideas. They read back on earlier sections and lament that the writing is so bad, so unlike what they had in their imaginations.
Before long, they've moved on to other, more interesting projects (like the next season of The Walking Dead), and when people ask about their book, they say, “Oh, I'm taking a break. Want to hear my idea for a new TV series?”
I know this pattern intimately because I've lived it.
Again and again.
Yes, I've written seven books. I would like to think I can write a book if I want to. But even now I'm vulnerable to this pattern, even now I have a hard time finishing the books I start.
How do you avoid this pattern? How do you finally finish a book?
The System For Writing and Finishing a Book
In 2014, I started teaching a small group of writers how to write a book. They had one assignment: by the end of the class, they had to have written a book.
The first semester, I kept waiting for the students to do what most people do. I expected them to miss deadlines, to get flaky and make excuses. To quit.
But they didn't quit. That first semester each and every one of of them finished a book. The second group in that program had the same result. In fact, everyone in that program finished their books. It had a 100 percent success rate.
When I tell my author and publishing friends this, they're always amazed because they know just how hard writing a book is, and how unlikely a program could have a 100 percent success rate.
This is a system that works, and I want to show you how to use it to finish your book.
The 4 Essentials To Finishing a Book
It's not enough to start a book. Everyone starts writing a book. Very few finish. What, then, is the system to finish a book? You need four things:
1. Make a Plan
Even if you're a “pantser,” not a planner, a basic book will help you write a better book faster. Here's what my plan contains:
- Premise or logine
- Onliness statement
- Reader avatar
- Personal marketing
Do you have a plan for your book? Before you start writing (or even if you're in the middle of writing), make one. I promise you will be much more likely to finish your book because of it.
2. Create Consequences.
To avoid procrastination, create painful consequences.
For example, for the book I recently finished, I set weekly deadlines for myself, and if I missed those deadlines, I created the following consequences:
- 1st deadline missed: Delete my favorite game from my phone (and don’t reinstall until the book is finished).
- 2nd deadline missed: Give my iWatch to my wife (permanently) and buy three pints of Jeni’s ice cream (at $12 ea.) for the people who work in my office.
- 3rd deadline missed: Send a $1,000 check to the presidential candidate I despise most.
After creating those consequences, I was amazed at how focused I was. I didn't miss a single deadline, and I had a great time during the writing process.
What consequences can you create that will be painful enough to keep you focused on finishing your book?
3. Get a Team
I believe in the power of community. It’s good to be around people who are struggling with the same problems you are. I’ve found that when I spend time with writers who are better than me, I become a better writer.
Ask other writers, family members, and friends to hold you accountable to finishing your book.
4. Set An Intention
Imagine where, when, and how much you will write.
Studies show that if you set an intention, imagining your environment and time of day, you are much more likely to follow through with your goal.
Here's an example:
Each morning before work, I will write 750 words at my favorite coffee shop.
Ready to Finish Your Book?
If you're ready to stop being an aspiring author, to stop talking about writing a book and finally finish one, I can almost guarantee that these four things will enable you to do it.
Soon, I'm going to be telling you about a new program that will make accomplishing each of these four things effortless, but to get started now, here's an easy and fun assignment:
The first part of a book plan is the premise.
Your premise is the foundation for your book. In fiction, the premise—also known as a logline—is 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.
To complete your assignment: Take your ideas from part one of this series and synthesize them down to a one-sentence summary of your book. For fiction writers, use the following formula: A character (2 words) with a goal (goal) that must go through conflict (antagonist) to get it (result).
For nonfiction writers, write a 2-3 sentence summary of your book's main idea. Focus especially on the problem and how to solve that problem.
Post your premise in the comments section below. And if you post, please be sure to give feedback to at least three other writers.
And if you want to know more about how to write a great premise? Check out our definitive premise guide.