Avoid These Common Mistakes to Finish Your Book
An internet rumour that started in 2015 suggests that 97% of writers never finish their first novel. Industry experts have debated that the figure might be closer to 99%. The exact number, of course, is impossible to gauge, because many people who set out to write a book never tell anyone. All we know is that the crowd of runners that start this particular marathon is substantially bigger than the one that crosses the finish line.
Excuses range from work commitments and illness to losing a laptop and having a notebook eaten by the family pooch. There are legitimate reasons why some people never finish their book. Life is complicated and full of unexpected obstacles. For some people, finishing becomes impossible. But for the vast majority, the reasons why they stop writing are based in their mindset or approach, both of which can be changed to improve their chances of success.
Today’s blog post will explore a few of the most common bear traps that snag even confident authors. In doing so, it will help you to identify what you might be doing to make finishing your book harder than it needs to be. Not only that, below you will find a solution to each of these issues. Follow the guidance and you will improve your productivity, mindset and ability to reach “The End”.
Lack of Belief
The writing community is diverse, but one quality we all share is determination. Those just starting out understand that a novel or non-fiction book is a big project, one that requires discipline to achieve. Yet, despite knowing about the difficulties ahead of time, many fail several times before they finish a manuscript. Others never get there. It’s only when you reflect on your process as a more experienced author, after you’ve passed this stage, that you wonder if you actually believed you would finish your early failed attempts.
It makes sense: the human mind is more likely to drive its body to succeed when it knows an outcome is possible. Look at the fastest running mile throughout history, for example. Experts believed a four-minute mile was impossible until Roger Bannister managed it in 1954. Lots of runners have beaten his time since then because knowing a target can be hit makes you more likely to push for it. Likewise, you might know that it’s possible to finish a book, but you don’t know that you can do it until you do. After that, follow-up books put up a weaker fight. Hence, if you want to finish your books then you need to believe you can. Use positive self-talk. Tell others that you can. All of this will help you to realise your goal.
No Plans or Goals
Speaking of which, many authors struggle to finish a project because they don’t have a plan that has any meaningful details or timescale. This blasé attitude is a mistake because it creates too much wiggle room which the brain fills with opportunities to procrastinate. You see it happen all the time; given too many options, the average person will either choose to do something easy and unproductive or do nothing at all.
Fortunately, this problem is easily overcome with plans and goals. For best results, start by choosing one project to develop. You’ll progress faster by moving in one direction than by working on multiple projects at once. After that, create an outline. Sure, industry titans like Stephen King and Marie Force claim to work better without one, but they finish their books. If pantsing (writing without an outline) hasn’t worked for you so far then an outline could be your game changer. It doesn’t have to be long – just a one-page framework. Chunk that framework into beats and add a deadline that is challenging but realistic and voila! You know what and when you need to write. Now all you have to do is show up and do it.
Missing Consecutive Days
Discipline is a key ingredient that separates prolific authors from those who sit on an idea for years. You might think that high-performers have extreme talent, luck or privilege but most simply make more time for writing. They write every day, no matter what, even fitting in words at 5:00 am before work or 9:00 pm after putting the kids to bed. They never wait to be inspired. For them, hitting their daily word count target is how they gauge a day’s success. New writers often assume that forced words will be bad quality, but this is actually a myth. In many cases, writers who show up every day see no difference between the words they enjoyed writing and those they produced through discipline.
You don’t have to write seven days a week to finish a book but consistency helps. So-called writer’s block often arises when authors miss two or more consecutive writing days. It builds like lichen when writers lose their flow and are forced to re-read passages to remember where they left the story. If you believe you can’t write most days, take a second look for missed opportunities. Five minutes standing in line at the grocery story could be 100 words typed on your phone. Your drive to work could be a 30-minute dictation session. Write every day, even if it’s a tiny amount, and your momentum will carry you to the last line.
Not Actually Writing
What actually counts as writing? Ask 100 authors and you’ll get 100 different answers because everyone writes in different ways. There are plotters and pantsers, over-writers who cut words in the edit and under-writers who add words. Some authors write chapters out of order, others write chronologically. Some spend a lot of time researching, others write first and sprinkle each scene with research after the plot is fully formed. You might count your daily walk as writing if the solitude gives you a chance to mull over your knotted plots. Ultimately, though, a first draft is universally measured in the number of fresh words written.
Question your process with this lesson in mind. For example, should you really redraft Chapter 4… again? Did you need to spend a morning researching how earthworms eat for one line of dialogue you haven’t even gotten to write? In most cases, the answer is no, so you’re better off ploughing through the first draft without stopping. Don’t pause to edit. Don’t fall down the Wikipedia rabbit hole or Google author success stories for motivation. Just focus on hitting your word count target until that first draft is complete. If you go off track, keep writing as if you’ve already fixed the last few chapters then circle back when you’re done. It’s easier to re-draft a complete book once you’ve written the end than to re-edit the same passages every time you deviate from your outline.
Lack of Vision
Individuals with a long-term vision demonstrate more grit and are more likely to succeed. At least, that’s what the science indicates in The Marshmallow Experiment, published in 1972 by Stanford professor Walter Mischel. In his experiment, Mischel gave several hundred toddlers one marshmallow each, promising a second if they didn’t eat it while researchers left the room for 15 minutes. As you can imagine, lots of the toddlers ate their marshmallow. Some persevered, though, and got double helpings as a reward. What the study found was that those children went on to score better in exams and generally lived healthier lifestyles, all because of their ability to delay gratification and focus on a longer-term goal.
Whether vision is innate or learned is still debated, but most studies agree that you can strengthen your current grit capacity like a muscle, no matter how strong it is originally. As a writer, you can do this by acting as if you are guaranteed to finish your book. Many successful indie authors, for instance, pre-purchase their book covers or book an editor months in advance. These strategies make it easier to visualise their finished book and keeps them committed, which in turn gives them the discipline they need to complete that first draft.
The path to a finished book has hundreds of pitfalls, far more than the scope of one blog post. What you must remember is that most roadblocks can be overcome as long as you prepare properly and keep moving. Follow the guidelines in this article and reflect on ways you can solve your unique issues. In doing so, you will greatly improve your chances of reaching the editing stage. And that’s a whole other adventure.
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