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?
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:
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.