Do you struggle to finish writing your book, or really anything you start? If you said yes, you're not alone. In a poll we conducted (with real people!), seventy-two percent gave us the same answer.
Finishing writing projects can be tough! That doesn't mean you can't do it.
Here's an important truth: you don't have to be the next Ernest Hemingway or Stephen King in order to finish writing a book. It's possible for you to find the writing time you need. But before you tackle your creative project, it's worth examining why you haven't been able to finish your story idea in the past.
In this article, I'm going to share three giant reasons most writers don't finish writing their books—and how you can carve out everything you need to complete your current project.
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. And yet the busiest person can finish writing their project if they understand why their book fell off course, and how they can get their book on track.
Here are three popular reasons you can't finish writing your book: for fiction writers and those completing a nonfiction book.
3 Reasons You Can't Finish Writing Your Book
There are many things many people fail to do that make finishing their books much more difficult. It is likely that what is holding you back has to do with one of these three reasons:
1. You don't have a plan.
A story idea isn't enough, even a great idea, a ground breaking idea, an idea that will change literature forever.
You have to have a a plan.
Many writers resist this idea of having any type of outline before they start writing their book. They want to see where the stories go, they say. They're free spirits, “artistic types.”
And yet, writers who finish projects, even anti-outlining pantsers, have some kind of plan. It may not be written down, and it might not be very good, but they have one.
How can you develop a plan that will bring purpose to your writing sessions?
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 three 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, including focuses like point of view and major moments and conventions in certain genres.
- The Write Structure. My new book is written by a writer for writers. In it I offer common-sense principles that drive bestselling novels. I also offer practical advice on how to use these principles in your own writing, making it an invaluable resource for authors that can help them better understand what makes great story structure, and how to become a better storyteller themself.
You can learn more about how to apply writing structure by joining one of our programs passionate about helping you commit and finish a book: 100 Day Book or one of our yearly Mastermind groups, One Year to Publish.
2. You don't have a team.
No writer is an island.
If you think you can write a book relying solely on your own willpower and without the support of others, you're kidding yourself.
As I've studied the lives of great writers, one thing has stood out to me: great writers were friends with other great writers. Because of this, they were able to develop consistent time that eventually lead to the completion of their awesome books. They had the support they needed to work through issues, to find the motivation they needed to write past the sticky parts of the writing process.
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. This is priceless.
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. And come up with strategies to write through struggling times.
Are you looking for a writing community committed to finishing their books? Our Mastermind, One Year to Publish, might be the perfect fit for you. Our Mastermind groups develop strategies for building a consistent writing schedule that will not only help you finish a book—but move towards publishing it. And all of this is done alongside a team you can depend on, with a mentor and peers who will push you to the finish line.
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.
You Can Finish Writing Your Book
From jotting down a story premise to character sketches and outlines the strengthen your story structure and center your story's focus—you can finish writing your book.
If you feel like you can't, it's likely you're suffering from one of the big three reasons that prevent writers from finishing their writing projects discussed in this article.
When we recognize what's holding us back, we can come up with a plan that will get us out of our writing slumps—and writing stops.
We hope you join us, and wish you luck!
How about you? Have you had trouble finishing writing your book? Let me know in the comments.
For today's practice, think through what working on your book every day would look like. What's your ideal writing schedule? Who will support you as you tackle it?
Spend fifteen minutes thinking about this and writing it down. Include a list of people who will believe that your book and your writing is important.
Last, if you feel like you're ready, consider applying for our Mastermind group, One Year to Publish. Find the community you didn't know you needed, and finish your book (plus get it ready to publish), starting in the new year!