Have you finished your novel? I’m not convinced that most writers even care if they finish or not. I want you to finish your novel. Earlier this year, I surveyed writers who wanted to self-publish a novel. The results were startling: only 6% finished their novel after one year.
Are you one of the 94% who let a whole year go by without a finished manuscript? Or do you actually care if you finish your novel? Having plodded away at my own first novel for 13 years, I know apathy and lack of direction when I see it. Ask yourself this question: How long have you been working on this book?
More than a year? More than two years? Or are you like me, and you’ve been working on your novel for a long, painful thirteen years? (I finally finished mine, to be fair.)
Having spent so much of my life trying to write the perfect book, failing to write the perfect book (and angsting over why I couldn’t seem to write the perfect book when I did so well with all my other fiction writing) I realized it had nothing to do with the quality of my writing and everything to do with the quality of my mindset.
I didn’t really care about finishing my novel.
I had vague ideas about being a published author and passive income and making a name for myself but, somewhere in those 13 years of drafts and edits, I’d lost sight of why I started the damn book in the first place: because I wanted to tell a story. A specific story. The story I was writing.
And it wasn’t until I recognized that, that the process started working again. So here are four things I’ve learned that will absolutely keep you from finishing your novel — and how to fix them.
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1. You need to have a Why, but you don’t.
Can you even turn around without someone asking you what your ‘Why’ is these days? It’s the Magic Eye of the era — everyone’s looking for them, but most of us give up before we see it. I’ll bet you haven’t seen your writing why yet.
If you don’t know why you’re trying to write a novel, then you’re not going to finish the novel. After all, why would you, when you have so many things you do know why you’re doing, like:
- Going to work (because you need an income)
- Cooking dinner (because you need to eat)
- Watching Netflix (because you don’t want to think about anything)
You know why you do those things. That’s easy. Knowing why you write could be a little more complicated.
Fix it: How to find your Why
It doesn’t take 13 years to figure out why you’re writing a novel (unless you’re me) so let me save you some time. This is all you need:
- 1 hour
You’ll use the pen to write on the paper. You’ll write every little half-formed thought that pops into your head. Every thought that has anything to do with why you want to write a book. And you’ll spend one hour doing it. The full hour. And this is important: Don’t censor yourself.
Be selfish. Be greedy. Be honest. Even if that means you have to own up to some not-so-great aspects about yourself. So what if you want to write a book to make money? So what if you want to be famous? Making money from your art doesn’t invalidate it; it pays rent.
This is all it takes, but sometimes setting aside the one hour to do it — without your phone, without your Instagram, without your partner asking you where the last fudge pop went — is the hardest part.
Don’t just scoff at this one. Tell Alexa to set a one-hour timer and get on it.
2. You don’t have a plan for how writing fits into your life.
Writing and finishing your book needs your mental commitment. This means you need a plan for how a regular writing practice fits into your life. If you haven’t figured out how to make writing your novel a habit, then I doubt you have a regular writing schedule, either.
This means a set time every day where you close your browser tabs and stare at that hatefully blank document for a set amount of time. Ideally, you will also add words to the blank document. But give yourself some leeway at first — your brain may need a few sessions to catch on.
Fix it: How to plan a regular writing practice
Take an inventory of your schedule. You don’t need a lot of time every day or every week, but you do need a plan for when you’ll write. Where can you consistently fit in an hour at least every other day? Schedule it. Put it in your phone and set a reminder. Tell your family that you can’t be disturbed because you’re going to finish your novel.
I know you’re looking at this and rolling your eyes. You’re busy, and you’ve already tried this, and it didn’t work, and when you try to write you have writer’s block, and on and on. But you’re going to have to give it an honest try. It’ll take a few sessions to get your brain to start working efficiently during this time, but it will happen. Your word count will start going up faster and faster.
It’s all about training your brain to expect to write at a certain time every day or every other day. When your brain knows what’s about to happen, it’ll automatically go into that mode. It’ll start thinking, ‘Okay let’s get this word count up’ instead of ‘I’m not quite sure what’s happening right now, but I am very uncomfortable.’
Words will come easier because your head space will already be there.
Quick Tip: One of the easiest ways to get your head in the writing game is to start with your novel logline. It’ll help you understand your story so you can outline (and therefore write!) better, faster, and easier!
3. You only prioritize it during NaNoWriMo.
How excited do you get every October? Does your mind start whirring with sparkling dreams of a flashy book cover on Amazon and hundred 5-star reviews on Goodreads? Do you stay up late with an orange pumpkin full of mini Snickers bars and Bottlecaps, eagerly awaiting midnight so you can start writing? Are you imagining yourself at holiday parties in December, finally being able to answer that dreaded question (“So how’s your book coming?”) with, “Oh that? It’s published. Doing really well, thanks.”
I get that. Those are good thoughts to have because they’re inspiring. Inspiration is like air to creatives. But they can’t be the only thing that inspires you. And November can’t be the only time you make an effort to get out 1500 words a day. Your writing practice needs to be regular — a steady, reliable habit that you maintain throughout the year. NaNoWriMo is an awesome event because it brings in new writers every year and connects kindred spirits, but it shouldn’t be the only month you’re aiming for 50,000 words.
Does that sound impossible? It’s not; it’s just perspective. This article is 1791 words. It’s not that scary-looking, is it? You can do this many words a day.
To write a novel, even one (we’re not even talking Stephen King-levels of prolific) you have to think of yourself as an author. Not a writer, but an author. Once you start thinking of yourself as an author, you’ll find that planning out a regular writing habit is way easier, because completing novels is what authors do. That means that what you do is, you guessed it, finish your novel.
Fix it: How to make writing a consistent priority
You need to develop a habit and force yourself to stick to it until it’s so ingrained you couldn’t stop if you wanted to. Instead of thinking of this in an I can stick with this for awhile way, I want you to think of it in a This is my new normal way.
You can do this. You’re an author, remember? Authors write books throughout the whole year, not just in November.
4. Your mindset sucks
The common thread in all these is, you guessed it, mindset. Points 1–3 are essentially mindset shifts. But there’s more to mindset than that. Mindset is not just how you think of your writing; it’s also how you think of yourself, your job, your family, your life in general. What you think is what you create.
Let me say that again: What you think is what you create.
Your goal is to create a belief in your brain that you are a successful novelist and you finish your books. By truly believing this, your brain will start acting to make it so. It will start cooperating when you sit down to write. It will start reminding you when it’s time for your daily writing session. It will start making you say, ‘I’m an author,’ when people ask you what you do. No more of that, ‘Oh, I do some writing on the side, no big deal,’ stuff.
Fix it: How to believe in what you want to create
If you’re always thinking about having writer’s block, or how you don’t have time to write, or that your writing sucks, then that is exactly what you’re going to get. This isn’t woo-woo or new-age (though I love both those things); this is human psychology. Your brain gives you more of what you believe. It can’t tell the difference between reality and the fake thoughts in your head, so feed it good fake thoughts until they’re no longer fake.
Feed it thoughts of easily pumping out 4,000 words an hour. Feed it thoughts of your first book being a best seller. Feed it thoughts of never having writer’s block again.
And that’s what it’ll give you. It may take a few weeks to get there, but it will get there.
The tl;dr version on how to finish your novel
To finish your novel, you need a WHY, a PLAN, a PRIORITY, and a MINDSET. Start with figuring out why you want to write a novel. Then plan to write regularly. Then prioritize your writing by starting to think of yourself as an author instead of a writer. But you can’t stop there — your mindset in all other parts of your life will affect your writing. You need to make a conscious effort to believe what you want is already true.
I hope this is helpful for you and gives you the boost you need to finally finish your damn novel. It was exactly what I needed to finish mine, and now that I’ve worked these things out, writing is so much easier. The words come smoothly, I enjoy the process, and the final drafts are not even horrible. I believe that everyone who wants to write a novel can do it.
Writing isn’t hard. It’s finishing that’s hard. Will you help me raise the 6%?