January 18, 2012

Writing Tips #8: Finishing your story

So you want to write, and you’ve read and listened to every comment I’ve made. Hopefully, I’ve raised your awareness of the number of things that go behind the production of a good solid book, and the tips have made you think and find your own answers to each step of the process. It has been a long way, and now we can say that...

The hardest part is yet to come.

Yep. I hate to disappoint, but while you can’t have a great book without considering every point we’ve talked about up until now, the mere fact of considering them is not nearly enough.

You still have to put pen to paper and finish that story you’re dying to tell!

The good news is that this section is going to be short. The bad news is that this section is where most writers drop out of their marathon to authorship.

My only advice is this: persevere, and finish the story. Even if it’s not perfect, even if it’s not publishable material, you’ll learn more from creating full stories than you could any other day.

I understand that it’s difficult, that sometimes you will be lost, the story will lose its appeal, and you’ll face the dreaded writer’s block. You can’t let any of that defeat you, though, and this is what I do to keep myself motivated and productive:

  • Set up a schedule. Think of writing as going to the gym. If you have aerobics class, you don’t skim it or decide to leave mid-way through, right? Then you should not bail out on your writing time either. Find at least one hour each day when you can, natural disasters and other calamities non-withstanding, lock yourself up on your own little writer world. Now, sit down every day at your scheduled time and remain sitting for your allotted period, no excuses allowed.

  • Think of it as your other job. The temptation to diversify our writing time and use it to watch our favorite TV series is daunting, I know. Sometimes you really need to do something, like go out for groceries. Sometimes you’ve had a hectic week and it seems like the house won’t get cleaned out if not in your writing time. Well, you must resist. You’d not tell your boss that you’re not showing up because your bathroom needs to be cleaned, right? You can’t tell yourself that your book can wait, either.

  • Give yourself a deadline. Your book is a project, just like any other. Give yourself a realistic estimate of how much you can write each day and set a firm deadline for you to finish. You’d not flunk a deadline at work, would you? Then you shouldn’t postpone your book endlessly either. I’m fairly decent at overlooking my own deadlines, so I get some friends, writing buddies, whatever and tell them that I’m writing my next project and that the first draft will be done by [insert date here]. And because I have to send them the draft to get their feedback, or just to prove that I did it, the deadline becomes real and I write.

  • Don’t give up, no matter what. Some apocalyptic issue kept you from writing a couple of days, you fell behind on your schedule and now you think you can’t make it to your deadline, so you push back the finishing date. Wrong. First, you’d be amazed at what you can do if you just keep hanging to your goals. Give it a chance and you might recover lost time and even make a head start! Second, if you open the gate and start accepting good excuses to push back the date, the bad excuses will step through as well and all your previous work on schedules and deadlines and responsible writing time will be wasted.

  • The Writer’s Block monster can’t eat you if you don’t let it. Writer’s block is some kind of monster of epical proportions that always comes up at one point or another in any “writerly” discussion, and it usually is to blame for any and all abandoned projects. I’d like to say that it isn’t real, but there’s a number of factors that might block you when writing, so I guess it is. What isn’t real is the sense of helplessness that might assault you and make you give up. Sitting back and waiting it out, letting it devour yet another brilliant idea and suck into the unfinished manuscript void is not the only possible reaction to Writer’s Block. There’s a hundred different ways to face it and fight it, from jumping to another scene to listening to music to taking a walk with the dog to clear your mind. My personal opinion, though, is that the only way to beat it dead is by writing.

    I write. It’s what I want to do, and I refuse to be held hostage by a capricious muse that might or might not give me good ideas anyway. My approach is that, if she leaves me, then I bring her back kicking and screaming, pulling her hair in a most troglodyte fashion. In other words: I keep writing. Perhaps I’ll only hammer out a sentence in my allotted writing hour. It’s still a victory, because I put words to paper. The next day, because sitting and staring at a screen while doing nothing is boring as hell, I might write a whole paragraph. It might not be perfect, but I couldn’t care less: perfection is something we have to seek while editing, not while finishing our first draft. Keep your attitude spunky and your fingers punching the keyboard, and eventually you will win the war. You’ll be back in the groove, writing.

As always with these tips, this is the advice that worked for me. Some I got from web pages, some I discovered on my own, some I was given but then had to beat my head against a wall myself until I believed in it. Take my words and make them yours, or think about them and find your own answer.

And then, share it with us: how do you finish your books?


  1. WOW!!! You are so much better than I am. I put it off, and off, yeah and then off some more. I let anything distract me. I need your determination. Thanks for this post I needed it!

    1. :) If it helps, I spent years without the determination, and I'm only now enforcing this whole responsibility thing: It took a finished project on my side to realize that I could actually finish the project.

      Don't give up, Rebecca! If you need extra motivation or support, I'm right here!

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