Do you have trouble finishing a book? When you stop, do you ever consider what causes writer's block? Do you need to learn some book writing strategies to help you get past that?
In a recent YouTube video, I talked about how hard it is to write a book, how it took me years to write a book, and how I hear from writers on a daily basis who are struggling with the writing process.
The good news, you don't have to be alone when you get stuck like this.
Today, I want to talk about why it’s hard to finish a book. Specifically, I'll cover ten things that people try when they’re struggling to finish writing a book that don’t work—and why this ends in giving up on a book, or paralyzes them due to writer's block.
Learn Book Writing Strategies That Help You
What I want to share today are ten things that I've done myself, and that have made my writing process harder.
Here’s the thing: it’s inevitable that you’re going to run into some problems when you’re writing a book. Finishing a book is really hard!
But the dangerous thing is that the more of these pitfalls you try, the more you’re destined to fail, and the more you fail the more aggravated you’ll get. Eventually, you’ll start to feel like you’ll never finish, that you don’t have the “discipline” or that you’re not a good writer.
The reality is that it has nothing to do with you, your skill level, or your discipline. It’s really just a failure of process. You’re trying the wrong things, and that inevitably will lead to failure.
You need to learn the book writing strategies that will help you—which sometimes means you need to know what's holding you back, first.
10 Book Writing Tactics That Cause Writer's Block
Do you know what causes your writer's block or discourages you from writing? I bet it's one of these ten book writing tactics that end in failure.
1. Willpower (white knuckle)
The first and most obvious tactic that people use to write a book that doesn’t work is to apply more willpower.
They think if they can only force themselves to sit down in the chair and write, they’ll be able to finish.
The problem is that willpower relying on willpower alone is exhausting. You are constantly fighting with yourself, and it can easily lead you to feeling burnt out.
Don’t get me wrong, you can’t finish a book without some willpower. But willpower alone isn’t enough to finish your book.
2. Morning pages / Free write
The second tactic that people try to write a book that doesn’t work is free writing. In other words, they just write.
And here I want to say, no offense to Julia Cameron, but morning pages are one of the best ways to never write a book.
There are many benefits to free writing. They can unlock some creativity and get you over some of your perfectionism. But you can’t free write your way to a finished book. You also have to… guess what…write your book.
I know way too many writers who have been daily devotees to The Artist’s Way for years and yet have never finished the projects that are closest to their hearts.
I personally have done morning pages for monthsand it was great! But I also realized that it alone wasn’t moving me toward my goals, and I don’t want that to happen to you.
3. Learn on your own
The third tactic that people try to write a book that doesn’t work is trying to learn on their own.
As the author of several books on the writing process, not to mention hundreds of articles, podcast episodes, and YouTube videos, I know how many people consume writing tips and then never finish their books.
There is so much to gain from learning about the writing process. But it can also be used as a way to procrastinate actually writing.
Yes, learn more about the writing process. Read books! Read my books!
But books alone are not going to finish your books for you.
4. Writing retreat
The fourth tactic that people try to write a book that doesn’t work is going on a writing retreat.
To be honest, there’s nothing that tickles a writer’s fantasies like a writing retreat.
There’s even a long tradition of famous writers going to retreats! Thoreau and Walden Pond, Hemingway and Paris, Mary Shelly and her Swiss chalet.
You think about a quiet cabin in the woods, preferably in upstate New York, or a Parisian atelier.
And it sounds sooo good, right?
The promise of a distraction free environment. The chance to really focus on your writing. Long walks in nature.
And yet, I’ve been on those retreats, and you’d be surprised at how many distractions you can find: annoying insects, watching birds, the weather, books that you finally have time to read.
There are plenty of great reasons to go on a retreat, but a retreat by itself won’t write your book for you.
The bigger problem is that you can’t stay on a retreat forever.
At some point, you have to come back from your retreat. And if you can’t then write when there are the distractions of everyday life, you might think the only time you can write is if you go on another retreat.
Most professional writers don’t need to go on retreats. They write book after book without retreats, and when they do travel, they go on vacation to get away from their writing.
So stop fantasizing about a writer's retreat to solve all your problems. It won’t.
5. Inspiration from reading
The fifth tactic that people try to write a book that doesn’t work is trying to get inspiration from reading.
One of my biggest mistakes when I was first trying to write books is reading other books similar to the one I was trying to write as inspiration or even for literary reference.
Writers read, and there’s no getting around the fact that you have to read books to learn how to become a better writer.
However, where this goes wrong is when you say,
“I can’t write my book until…”
“I can’t write my book until I finish reading this classic book.”
“I can’t write my book until I read these latest bestsellers.”
“I can’t write my book until I read every book in my genre.”
And here’s a hint: any time you’re saying you can’t write your book until, you’re procrastinating. And reading inspiring books is one of the best ways to procrastinate.
The flip side, of course, is just as bad: avoiding all books so that they don’t mess with your writing style or distract you. But this is just another form of procrastination and stalls people out. You end up not reading and not writing and worse, not growing as a writer.
Reading is good! But reading alone won’t write your book for you!
6. Cram: Pull an all nighter/NaNoWriMo
The sixth thing people do that doesn’t help them finish their book is trying to cram.
For example, I once tried to pull an all nighter, writing my book in just one day. I fell asleep at 3:30 and never finished that book!
Let me tell you, you can write a lot in a single day! But you can’t write a whole book.
Another version of this is NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, in which participants attempt to write 50,000 words on a book project during the month of November.
NaNoWriMo can be a great way of helping people focus over a short, intense burst, but there’s two problems:
- People tend to write really unfocused, bad books
- They can leave you burned out, and if you don’t finish, you might never return to that book again.
Afterward, a lot of people end up saying, “Oh I just wasn’t inspired enough,” if I only had the right idea or the right inspiration, I would have finished.
And you end up just further away from your goal.
7. Get feedback
The seventh thing people do to try to finish their book that fails is to get feedback. Maybe they join a writing group, or they just share their writing with everyone they know.
This is perhaps the most pernicious and biggest reason people fail to finish their books.
A lot of writers, as soon as they write something, anything, they want to share it. It might be a first chapter, the first 10K words, whatever. They want to share it with their friends and family and hear what they think.
Or if they’re really committed (and they don’t have friends and family who are supportive of their writing) they join a critique group to get feedback on their work in progress.
But here’s the problem: Say the people you’re sharing it with don’t like it. How do you stay focused on writing when your ego is bruised from negative feedback?
You wind of circling around whether they just missed it, or are you actually a terrible writer, or are they just a terrible reader.
What went wrong?
Or let’s say they love it, they think you’re an amazing writer and they can’t wait to see you famous. But then fresh off the high, you have to go back to writing something new and it’s not as good as the thing that got such great feedback.
Either way, you wind up going back to the earlier thing you’ve written, either trying to fix it or keep up the feeling you got when people loved it.
And it becomes harder and harder to move forward with your book. You need feedback—just not until you've finished the book.
8. Writing classes
The eighth tactic people try when they’re stuck writing their book is to take classes. This is similar to learning on your own with books, articles, YouTube videos is when you try to learn with others.
You think, this writing class will help me finish my book.
Or you think, maybe I should go back to school and get my creative writing degree. (I got that degree, btw. It didn’t work!)
Or you think, if only I was in an MFA program and got my masters in creative writing. Surely then I would be able to become a bestselling author (and oh by the way finish my book).
But I know plenty of people who now have $80,000 or more in student loans and still haven’t finished their book.
Again, I’m not against classes. Learning more about the writing and creativity is great. Many of these programs are really special (not all of them, of course).
But I also have worked with a lot of writers who came to me during their MFA program so they could actually finish their book.
More school is not going to write your book for you.
The ninth thing that writers try that messes with their book writing process is just general, everyday procrastination.
“Oh I’m not feeling inspired right now, I’ll scroll through facebook until I get new ideas.”
Or, “I can’t think what to write next. I should take the day off from writing and wait for the inspiration to come to me.”
Or they hear Hemingway’s advice to “never think about writing” when he wasn’t doing it so they take a loooong break to “let their subconscious” do the work.
There are lots of ways to procrastinate writing a book, but they all come down to not feeling ready, not feeling prepared, at the end of the day, not feeling good enough to write.
And when you give in to that, you’re saying:
“Yes, I agree. I am not good enough, I do not have enough skills, I am not enough for this book.”
So it’s no wonder you feel so bad about yourself after you procrastinate, because you’re allowing all that negativity to win!
The final way thing people try that keeps them from finishing their book, and the logical conclusion at the end of all these attempts, is to quit.
“My idea is terrible, I’m just going to start a new book with a better idea.”
“Writing a book is just too hard.”
“I’m not a real writer. I don’t have what it takes. I’m not disciplined enough”
This is what makes me feel the saddest, because the reality is that there is a way to finish a book, a way that anyone can finish a book, a process that if you follow it, you’ll do it.
And I know because I tried all of these things and I failed.
Then I tried a new way, a new process of writing and it worked, I finished my book. I finished more than a dozen books after that. And I’ve helped thousands of people finish their books this way, too.
It’s not as fun as many of these things that we’ve talked about. It’s certainly not as cool as going on a writing retreat.
But the process works.
Know What Holds You Back
If you want to develop some book writing strategies that will help you finish writing your book, you need to also know what's causing your writer's block or decision to give up on it.
I want to hear from you. Before you can use this process, you need to know what you’re going to write.
So that’s what I want you to figure out. I have three questions for you in today's practice section to help you figure out what you’re going to write, and I want you to reply with your answers.
What book writing strategies do you use to finish writing a book? Let us know in the comments.
- Tell me your idea for your book. (Don’t worry; I have so many ideas of my own, there’s no way I’ll write your book, too. But it’s so powerful to share your idea with someone else! Hit reply and let me know what you plan to write.)
- Get specific about what you need to write. How long will your book be? Tell me your best guess at your book’s word count. (If you’re not sure, we have a guide on The Write Practice that talks about how long books in most common genres are. I’ll put that in the description. A good estimate for a novel is 80,000 words to 100,000 words.)
- Tell me WHY you want to write your book. Why is this book idea so important to you? This last step is actually the most important, so don’t skip it.
When you're done, don't forget to comment on other writer's answers in the comments!