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Thursday, November 8, 2012

How to Finish a Book (recycled)

(It's NaNoWriMo season.  Because of this, here's a repost of something many writers might be wondering: how to actually finish a book.  I first posted this in August of '08, and it's still one of my most popular posts.  I'm recycling it now, with a few updates.)

For me, and many other authors, starting a book is lots of fun. Everything is exciting and new and fresh, and you're really into your story. But once the excitement wears off, writing a novel can sometimes become a tough, slow, unpleasant process. Well, it'll always be tough and slow, but there are ways to make it less unpleasant.  (I also have a post detailing the exact 70 steps it takes to write a novel.)

Starting books and being able to finish them is the difference between a writer who'll never get published and a successful, published author. A published author has deadlines, and people expect him/her to actually finish books.

In this post, I will tell you how to finish a book. I'll be giving tips on how to stay motivated and keep pushing through until the very end. Keep in mind that no two writers are alike, so these might not work for everyone.

  • Set goals. I'm sorry if this brings to mind painful flashbacks of health class. But really, goal-setting helps. One great idea is to get a calender, and think about what timeframe you want to finish your novel in. Do you want to have it done by next September? Take your estimated word count, and divide it by the months remaining until your goal. Write the number of words you want to have written by the end of the month somewhere on that month's page. For example, say I want to have my book done by December, in four months. It'll be a 40,000 word book. On September's page I'd write 10k, and 20k on October's, etc. Or just write "80,000 words by June 13 or else..." on a post-it and stick it on your computer. Just make sure your goal is actually realistic. Challenge yourself, but don't be absurd. If you can usually write a thousand words a day, don't set a goal to write thirty thousand in the next week.
  • Reward yourself. You know that CD you've been wanting to download? That book you really want to buy? That box of chocolates you've been eyeing at Target for the last month, the ones you don't need but really, really want? Use these to your advantage. Tell yourself "Okay, I'll buy this when I finish my book" or "I can't let myself get this until I reach x number of words". Whatever happens, don't let yourself cave in and buy it before you've reached your word count. Or, better yet, buy that box of chocolates, and put it right by your computer. Put it somewhere that you'll see it every time you sit down to right. But don't eat it yet. Just let it sit there, taunting you. You'll be surprised how eager you'll be to sit down and churn out those words.
  • Don't start other projects. Yes, I know this is tough for some people, especially if you're that kind of person that gets too many ideas all at once. I'm like that, too. But if you ever want to actually finish a book, you need to learn to ignore those ideas. Keep a separate notebook, and when an idea decides to smack you on the head, jot it down quickly. Write it so you won't forget. And then leave it alone. Don't touch it. Don't let yourself dwell too much on it. You're still trying to finish another book, remember? Whatever you do, don't even think of opening up a blank document and starting that other project. Once you do, you'll never finish your first one. This has everything to do with your and your willpower. You simply can't let yourself do that. Besides, ideas come and go. By the time you're done with your current book, and go back to all the ideas that came while you were writing, you'll realize that some of them aren't as great as you first thought.
  • Don't edit as you go. Again, this has everything to do with your willpower. Resist the urge to edit. This is your first draft, not the final masterpiece. If you edit as you go, two things will start to happen. One, you'll spend so much time editing that you'll never finish actually writing the book. Two, you'll start to realize everything that's wrong with your story, and you'll get discouraged. In the first draft, nothing is set in stone. You'll be able to change everything later, so ignore it for now.
  • Remove as many distractions as possible. Most of my current book has been written on a computer without internet access. This has been a godsend. I highly, highly recommend this for writers. If you don't happen to have an ancient computer sitting around, disconnect your internet or something. On Windows computers, there's probably a little button in the corner of your screen with a computer and some little parentheses things that are supposed to be internet signals. Click it. You see that button, the one that says "disable?" Click it. Then you won't be able to go on Facebook, or Pinterest, or type up blog posts like I'm doing right now. If your iPod or phone has internet access, turn it on airplane mode. Don't let yourself turn the internet back on. Just put yourself in a situation, if you can, without internet distractions, shiny new books to read, etc.
  • Make a playlist of songs that relate to your book. I have one, and it really gets me excited about my story. It helps me connect with my characters again, and reminds me why I started the story in the first place. It creates an atmosphere for you to write in with the specific ideas and feel of your story. It helps those words flow.
  • Reread sections you thought went well. You know that one scene, the one that just clicked? The one that just really worked for one and shines like there's no tomorrow, even if the rest of the story is awful? Reread it. Reread that chapter that you love because it shows off your amazing wit. There's got to be something you like about your story, so reread it. Don't edit, just read. You'd be surprised how reading your own stuff gets you excited about your story again.
  • Outline. Are you constantly having trouble with staring at a blank page because you don't know what should happen next? If you keep having this problem, it's going to be impossibly difficult to finish your book. If this is the case, sit down and write an outline of the remainder of the story. It doesn't have to be detailed. All you need is a basic overview of what your characters will do once they get to point A, and point B, and so on.
  • Just sit down and write. Force yourself to spit those words out. Personally, I'm pretty good at forcing myself to sit down and make myself do something. Somewhere along the line my mind developed this interesting ability to mentally beat myself up if I don't do something that I know I should. If you aren't like that, you're going to have to learn, if you want to finish a book. No matter how hard it seems, just sit down and write. It doesn't matter how horrible the words are. It's your first draft. Nobody cares. Just write and write and make yourself finish that story. Force yourself to push through it until the very end. When it really comes down to it, this is the best way to finish a book. Actually, it's the only way.
  • Remember why you started.  Before you begin your story (or right now), write down what you love most about this novel.  The reason why it's so important.  The reason you love your main character.  A reason to keep writing.  Write this somewhere, and put it somewhere you'll be able to see it easily while writing.  This will remind you of why you started this in the first place. 
I'm not going to lie to you. Finishing a book is a huge task that many times seems downright impossible. But it can be done. All you need is the love and dedication to your story, and a will of iron. Over time, you'll make it easier on yourself, as you learn how to best keep yourself motivated.

By the way, Stephen King says that writing a first draft should take three months. Don't listen to that. It would be great if you could actually do that, but most of us will take the better part of a year, if not more, to finish a book.

I wish you luck in all of your novel-finishing endeavors. You'll need it. If I forgot anything, or you have any tips to add, feel free to comment!

Just don't follow my example right now, since I should be writing. 
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