When you start writing a book, you intend on finishing it.
You begin with a wave of excitement. A new book holds so much promise. Then somewhere along the way, something changes. The story gets more difficult. It takes longer to finish a chapter or even a page.
And then suddenly you’re in the middle of the book and you’re stuck. Before you know it, it’s been weeks or even months since you’ve written a word.
Your project dangles dangerously on the precipice of the giant wasteland known as “unfinished manuscripts.”
You must not allow this to happen! If you do, you become one of those writers who don’t finish their projects. We never hear about them.
You want to be a writer who finishes. It’s those writers who build successful careers.
To do that, avoid these five mistakes.
1. Chasing After a New Idea
There’s a condition called the “shiny object syndrome” that may attack when you start to struggle with a story. New ideas pop into your head and they seem like much better ideas than the one you’re working on now. If you’re not careful, the syndrome will convince you to start over on a new project.
Don’t fall for it. Write the other ideas down, store them somewhere safe, and continue working on the project you’ve already started. Otherwise, you will continue to chase after new idea after new idea but never finish any books.
2. Failing to Schedule Your Writing Time
When you first start working on your book, your excitement carries you. You hurry to your computer whenever you have a chance because you can’t wait to write more. But then when the story starts to get difficult—as most stories do—you may start to put off your writing time.
This is why you must schedule time on your calendar to work on your project. Get a calendar—whatever type works for you—and schedule in time to write every week. Once you have made the time, report to work as you would for any other job or appointment.
Even if you’re not sure what to do during that time, put yourself in the writing space anyway. Use the time to research your story, read instructive blogs or books, or write a different scene.
Eventually, your creative brain will kick in, and you’ll be writing smoothly again.
3. Allowing Life to Interfere
Whenever you must invest considerable time working on a big project, it’s common for life to interfere. Something goes wrong at the job. The car breaks down. A friend or loved one is beset with a crisis and needs your help.
Whatever happens, it pulls you away from your project. You go for weeks or even months without working on it. When things calm down again, you think about returning, but it’s difficult. You’ve lost your momentum, and don’t remember where you were in the story.
Here is where many writers fail. It’s common for life to interfere. And it’s common for writers to give up after that because let’s face it: getting started again is tough.
Don’t let a life crisis lead to an unfinished manuscript. Do what you have to do, then when it’s time, get out your calendar, schedule time to write, and dive in once more. Often the secret to finishing a book is starting over again and again.
4. Failing to Track Your Progress
When you start to struggle with the story, it’s easy to feel discouraged. This is when that nasty self-doubt tends to appear, which will encourage you to give up.
This is where tracking your progress can help. How far have you come? Writers who never finish don’t know. Successful writers have some sort of system they use so they can look back and say, “Hey, I can’t quit now. Look at how much I’ve already done!”
Here are a few options:
- Keep a time log. Record every time you work on your story. Write down the date and time spent, then your total time for that day. Add up the time for each week and month.
- Keep a word count. Use a table or Excel document to keep track of how many words you write each day. This is something many famous writers, including Hemingway, did. Post the chart where you can see it easily.
- Keep a journal. Take five minutes at the beginning or end of the day to record your thoughts on your story. Write down how you feel, what the characters are doing, what you think they will do next, or anything that occurs to you. The more information your journal contains, the more helpful it can be in times of struggle.
- Keep a calendar. Using a wall calendar, mark an “X” for every day that you work on your project. This is a method made popular by comedian Jerry Seinfeld. Once you have a series of “x’s,” you’ll resist breaking the pattern, which can encourage you to keep going.
5. Giving Up
Even if you think the story is no good, or you’re stuck and don’t know what to do, abandoning the project is almost always a mistake.
Finishing a book gives you experience in finishing a book. If you write only a few chapters, all you’ve practiced is writing chapters. You haven’t practiced taking an idea from beginning to end, which translates to weak storytelling skills.
Don’t give up on yourself. Keep going. Get help if you need to. Ask a writing mentor or hire a book doctor. Then no matter what happens—whether you publish the book or not—be proud of yourself. Finishing a book isn’t easy. Many writers never accomplish it. But you will…as long as you don’t give up.
Note: For more guidance on how to finish the creative projects you start—including the 5 things you must have to complete your book—get Colleen’s FREE mini-course here!
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Colleen M. Story is a novelist, freelance writer, writing coach, and speaker with over 20 years in the creative writing industry. Her latest novel, The Beached Ones, released from CamCat Books on July 26, 2022. Her previous novel, Loreena’s Gift, was a Foreword Reviews’ INDIES Book of the Year Awards winner, among others.
Colleen has written three books to help writers succeed. Your Writing Matters is the most recent, and was a bronze medal winner in the Reader Views Literary Awards (2022). Writer Get Noticed! was a gold-medal winner in the Reader’s Favorite Book Awards and a first-place winner in the Reader Views Literary Awards (2019). Overwhelmed Writer Rescue was named Book by Book Publicity’s Best Writing/Publishing Book in 2018.
Colleen frequently serves as a workshop leader and motivational speaker, where she helps attendees remove mental and emotional blocks and tap into their unique creative powers.