When you started your novel, how long did you think it would take to finish? Have those initial estimated writing deadlines come and gone? More importantly, did you finish your novel in that time frame?
If the answer is no, don't fret. You're not alone. Like me, you might fear you’ll never complete your story in a timely manner.
Maybe one day you lack inspiration. The next you don't know where your story needs to go. Perhaps you procrastinate or feel low energy.
You know, the struggles all writers go through.
I suffered those afflictions and more during the 100 Day Book program at The Write Practice. And for a time, I thought I wouldn't finish my novel by the deadline.
Let's skip to the ending: I completed the second draft of my book on time.
But I learned four valuable lessons in the struggle. Lessons that will help you in meeting deadlines and enduring the writing process.
I’d like to share them with you now, so you can write your completed novel far faster than you believe possible.
Running Out of Time to Finish Your Novel
Throughout the 100 Day Book process, there were several weeks where instead of posting the 4,000 to 5,000 words necessary to finish by my novel’s deadline (my novel is around 90,000 words), I only posted 1,500 words.
One chapter, when I should have written at least three or four.
With less than two weeks until the December deadline, I despaired. I had another fourteen chapters to revise, and in some cases, rewrite from scratch.
I’d only managed four chapters a week at my best. I resigned myself to the fact I wouldn’t finish on time.
Then something happened.
I remembered if I didn’t make my deadline, I’d miss out on the $100 back from the 100 Day Book program. Also, a friend would mail a check I’d written to a political party I didn’t want to get my money.
Plus, I’d told my daughter, friends, and everyone in the Write Practice community that I was working on this goal.
I realized I could finish in time if I pushed myself to write, and write fast.
So I made a plan and did what I needed to make it happen.
Here’s what I learned.
The 4 Lessons I Learned From Almost Failing My Book
Nobody likes wasting time when writing their novel, and everybody has experienced that feeling—at one point or another—when they're disappointed in themselves because they didn't meet the writing deadlines they set out to complete.
But there's beauty in the mess. There's growth in all the obstacles we wrestle to finish our novel before time is up.
I learned this firsthand—striving to meet deadlines that were tough to meet—and learning four crucial lessons that came from almost failing my book.
And doing everything to meet my writing deadlines nonetheless!
Lesson 1: You Can Accomplish Much More Than You Think
I finished five of fourteen chapters until I came to the last four days before the deadline. Over those last four days, I crammed in revision, planning, and writing time. To the tune of about ten hours per day, on average.
Line by line, I pushed through and met my goal. It was an act of endurance, one I didn’t think possible until I had to do it.
And to be clear, I don’t recommend waiting until the last minute to write (seriously, get that work in earlier).
Still, working to meet my writing deadlines under the (dwindling) clock taught me how much time I’ve been wasting during my everyday writing sessions. How, even when I felt low energy or uninspired, I could force myself to write—with an ending result that still turns out pretty good.
We, as writers, each suffer writing blocks or obstacles, sometimes unavoidable. Life happens, after all.
But ask yourself, how much could you write if you really pushed yourself to meet your deadlines? What would happen to your writing life if that level of effort became a more normal habit?
Would a little added daily discipline help you finish your novel?
It helped me.
You can accomplish more writing in a small timeframe than you think. Don’t believe me?
Lesson 2: Guess Your Way Through Story Blocks
You know those nights when you have to get up early the next morning? When you only have a few hours to rest, so you’re determined to make the most of them? Yet, of course, you can’t get to sleep.
I encountered a similar fate with my writing each day.
Despite having no time to waste, I fretted over which way I should turn a scene. Should I have my characters do this, or that? Or, I got paralyzed because the chapter wasn’t working.
Something wasn’t right in my story, which tempted me to stop.
But because I had a deadline to meet, I had to try something, even if it wasn’t perfect for my character, plot, or scene. Since sitting around not writing was no longer an option, I wrote.
I wrote my best guess at what should happen in the scene. Or what might fix it.
And once that something was on the page, my brain could see where the flaw existed. Only then was the solution clear.
Sometimes it took two or three “guesses” before I found something that worked.
Doing this guesswork on a separate document or piece of paper kept my manuscript clean instead of cluttered with unworkable ideas, and I highly recommend keeping some distance from your main manuscript.
This separation might help you try something new, knowing it can be easily tossed if it doesn't work.
I know this sounds basic and obvious. Yet how often do you stop yourself doing it?
Give yourself permission to “fail” early and often when you face a story block. Seeing what doesn't work is often the fastest way to discover what will.
After all, you can’t edit a scene that doesn’t yet exist.
Lesson 3: Lower Your Expectations
On the surface, lowering your expectation for finishing a manuscript sounds like horrible advice. After all, we want our story to shine so readers will love it.
So we love it.
That’s not wrong to want. It's just inconvenient during the early drafts of your story.
If you expect too much from those early drafts, you’ll inevitably get disappointed when the on-page result doesn’t match your hopes. Do this, and you won't finish your novel. Guaranteed.
That leads to discouragement and more procrastination.
And the biggest problem in all this is most writers need those messy drafts before they can write the draft they did imagine. Ideally, a version of their story that turns out even better than they imagined.
There are exceptions to how many drafts it takes for a publishable novel, but from what I’ve discovered, most writers need at least three drafts to come to a satisfying end product.
To avoid disappointment and plummeting self-esteem, expect your first draft to be sloppy and full of plot holes. Especially if you’re a newer writer.
Then, in your second draft, expect to clean up that structure and fill some of those holes.
But not all of them.
For example, the first draft of my novel was nearly unreadable. My revision notes went on for pages, listing plot holes and necessary changes.
In my second draft, I remedied most of those problems, but a few new ones arose, although less glaring. I also now realize my characters are flat and need fleshing out. So, I’ll address these issues in the third draft.
Go in knowing you can’t tackle it all in any one draft. Doing multiple revisions might seem a more time-intensive way to write. But in practice, it's often faster, since focusing on fewer elements in each revision is more efficient.
That said, this is MY experience. It might not be for you.
To find out, try this process of plowing through your first draft fast, with the expectation of doing some major overhaul with it later. If it doesn’t work for you, find what does.
There’s no one way to be a writer, just as there's no one way to finish your novel.
But this way, at least your first draft won’t take up years of time you can’t get back—and could have been writing your next few books.
Lesson 4: Set Deadlines and Consequences
Without a doubt, I would not have pushed myself to meet my deadline if there weren’t consequences for missing it. Or likewise, if I didn’t have a deadline at all.
By telling my daughter (and others) about my manuscript goals, I knew I’d have to admit defeat if I failed them.
Also, the check my friend held ready to mail to the political party I don’t agree with spurred me.
And the $100 incentive I’d miss from The Write Practice served as further motivation.
I ended up losing more than that with the day of work I took off to meet my deadline. Even so, those consequences proved just enough leverage to push me toward action instead of complacency.
This proves how invaluable negative consequences for not meeting deadlines can be, as well as rewards for work hard earned. The two of them together, however, is what gave me the drive to finish my manuscript.
So don’t underestimate the power of setting deadlines and consequences on your writing. It may seem unnecessary or drastic. It may feel like fluff you’ll commit to in the beginning but fail to follow through with if you don’t meet your writing goals.
But as writers, we’re often our own worst enemies.
Having that extra oomph to push you into your goals can reduce years of writing to months.
I hope these hard-won lessons help you in your writing goals for the coming year.
Remember, you're capable of far more output than you likely think possible. But don't expect your quality to best Shakespeare out of the gate.
By setting deadlines and consequences, then guessing your way through tough spots, you'll get to the end much faster.
How 100 Day Book Also Taught Me to Finish My Novel
Before 2020, I struggled to finish my creative projects. The years stretched on and I had nothing to show, despite working at my story ideas from time to time.
Then, in Spring of last year, I joined the 100 Day Book program with The Write Practice. I’m not exaggerating when I say it made all the difference.
The strategies of using deadlines and consequences are built into the 100 Day Book system. I simply followed along, doing my best to meet the Friday deadline each week. I exited those 100 days with a finished first draft.
I joined again in the Fall, and despite the difficulties listed above, I now have a finished second draft.
But it was that simple.
In addition to the deadlines and consequences of 100 Day Book, the camaraderie of other writers going through the program at the same time inspired me. And their helpful critiques served as a reward for my hard work.
Also, sharing in their difficulties, realizing I wasn’t alone in my struggles, assured me I was on the right track.
All this is to say, if you’re also struggling to finish your novel, I can’t recommend the 100 Day Book program enough.
It instilled in me the habit of writing consistently and meeting deadlines. Those are skills that will serve any writer for the entirety of their career.
Because of that discipline, I finally see the light at the end of my publishing journey. And I know the experience will assist me in completing many more novels.
I’m certain 100 Day Book can do the same for you.
What obstacles have prevented you from finishing your novel? Let us know in the comments.
If you want to write a book, 100 Day Book is the way to do it.
Join our next semester and get the deadlines, consequences, and team you need to finally finish.
You can accomplish much more than you think. And right now, you get to prove that to yourself.
Set a timer for fifteen minutes. Then, challenge yourself to write as much as you possibly can. Don't get hung up on quality; remember, first drafts are meant to be messy, and the goal here is the highest word count you can muster.
What should you write? Anything! Free write, pull out your work in progress, or write a new story based on this prompt:
The truck had spilled its contents all across the highway.
When you're done, share your practice writing and your word count in the comments below. And be sure to leave feedback for your fellow writers!