FINISH THE DARN BOOK
If you don't finish the book, you won't sell it
I can't tell you how many books I've started but never finished. Sweet romances, romantic suspense, mysteries, paranormals—any story that flitted through my head earned a paragraph's blurb in my little list of story ideas. When I felt the urge to write, I'd pick one of those blurbs, sit down and start writing. Many times I made it to chapter five or six with no problem, the story just flowing like water from my fingertips to the keyboard.
And then...nothing. I had no idea where the story needed to go. I might be able to see the end—happily ever after, natch—but no idea or means of getting there. The couple either refused to fall in love or fell in love but had no reason to stay apart, and I couldn't keep throwing external problems at them for 280 pages.
The common reaction when you reach that point in the book is to put it away in frustration and disgust and start a new book. I've done that more times than I like to admit. I found my inability to finish books far more disheartening than getting a rejection letter.
What I finally realized was that winging it just didn't work for me. I have a theory that, being a middle child, I'm conflict-phobic by nature. Conflict doesn't come naturally to me, though I've come to appreciate the dramatic benefits of a rich and twisty conflict. It takes work and planning to infuse my stories with enough organic, sustainable conflict to make them work.
But that wasn't my only problem. Between working full time and being a professional procrastinator, I was very, very good at not writing daily. But I do have a sort of fetish for checking things off a to-do list, and what is a daily writing planner but a big old to-do list? So I decided to give the old Excel spreadsheet daily pages planner a try.
I set myself up a fast-paced work schedule because there was a contest I wanted to enter approaching quickly. I didn't like to enter contests with unfinished books, so I was dead-set on getting the book finished or nearly finished by the time I entered the contest. To do that, however, I had to keep to my writing schedule.
Now, I'm not a robot. There were days when nothing would come, and I'd had to mark my lack of progress by changing the page numbers for that day down to zero. But I simply added pages to other days, or added days to my goal, always trying to keep within that two-month goal period if possible. And you know what? It worked.
I finished the book in just over two months. I entered the contest, finaled and won. I wish I could say I sold the book, but I didn't. But what I learned from writing that book was the best way for me to write. I need structure. A goal. Accountability. I need to work out the details of the conflict so that I know I have enough story to get me through the rough spots in the middle. These are things I know about myself as a writer.
But what does that tell you about yourself as a writer? Not much, really. Every writer is an individual, with different needs and different goals. But still, you have to finish the darn book. So what's the takeaway?
Here it is. Pay attention. Take notes.
As a writer, you have to figure out what your weak spots are and fix them.
Yeah, as far as takeaways go, I guess that's pretty obvious. But it's also true.
My weak spots were the inability to sustain a story from beginning to end and the inability to write fast enough to have the commercial career I wanted to have. Once I figured out that those were my obstacles to publication, I found ways to work past them and achieve my goal.
You may have ten weak points. If you're very, very lucky, you may have only one. But even if there's only one sticking point for you, it's still a sticking point. And you need a game plan to overcome it.
So, first, identify your weak spot. Is it motivation? Try music. Try movies. Try looking at your checkbook and thinking how much nicer it would be to have extra cash.
Ideas? Find a magazine or newspaper and read it cover to cover, taking notes on anything that catches your eyes. Try an hour of unfettered, anything-goes brainstorming with a friend. Read a type of book you've never read before. Pull out your book of fairytales and think of ways to twist them into new stories.
Procrastination? Write in smaller chunks but more times a day. Reward yourself for finishing that small chunk with something you enjoy doing. But then apply plenty of guilt by reminding yourself that the only reason you got to do that enjoyable thing was because you made yourself a promise that you'd get back to work when it was time.
Writing every day? Make yourself a schedule and stick to it.
Craft issues? Figure out what they are and ask your fellow writers what tricks they use to deal with those problems. Find books on writing that address your craft issues. Practice daily to improve your writing.
So many problems, so many ways to solve them. But first, you have to take time to be honest with yourself and figure out what's really keeping you from completing a great book in a reasonable amount of time.
The rest of the year stretches out in front of you, full of writing obstacles but also opportunities. What are you going to do about it?
What do you need to fix in order to finish the darn book?
Copyright © 2011 by Paula Graves