Here’s something I’m a little embarrassed to admit: my novel has been in a work in progress for 6 years.
Except really, it’s been in such fits and starts that it’s not like I’m writing War and Peace. I haven’t really been writing it for 6 years, that’s just how long it’s been in existence, mostly horribly neglected and forgotten about. In the meantime, I’ve finished 6 non-fiction books, ghostwritten a book, written countless articles and blog posts, and published 12 magazine issues.
So, it’s not for lack of time that I’ve been putting off finishing the book.
And the weird thing is, I really want to finish it! Figuring out why I can’t (or rather, don’t seem to want to) complete it has been the first step in getting into a rhythm with it again.
Figuring out the Resistance
I was on FaceTime to my dear friend Ingrid Ricks the other week, and our conversation forced me to take a step back and examine what exactly is preventing me from just getting it done. Ingrid is a New York Times Bestseller with several published books, so she’s been through the process many a time. That conversation was eye opening and fire-up-the-arse igniting, and ever since our chat, I’ve been working on it a little almost every day. If baby stays in utero until his/ her due date (and statistics say first babies will often be late), then I should be on track to finish it while on maternity leave. Oh the relief and joy that will bring.
The truth is, I’ve often thought about throwing in the towel and just giving up on this book, but regardless of whether I decide to show anyone the final product, I think it’s good practice just to get it completed.
Here’s what I’ve found helpful in helping me to finish the book (as opposed to convincing myself that one day, I will…)
1. Splitting Goals & Deadlines into Manageable Chunks. I used to have the goal of ‘Finishing the Book’ and then give myself an arbitrary deadline of about 6 weeks in the future. Most of the time this just scared me and I’d wait until week 5 to even start. Now I’m working on bite-sized goals and deadlines. My book is broken into 4 acts, and I’m aiming to edit an act a week for a month. Mini deadlines make the bigger deadline seem much less overwhelming and way more manageable.
2. Being Held Accountable (to yourself or to others). Figuring out what motivates you to stick to a goal or habit is really powerful, and the truth is that everyone is different. Helpfully, you can use Gretchen Rubin’s 4 Tendencies Quiz to learn how you respond and / or resist to inner / outer expectations in order to keep up a habit. I’m what Gretchen classifies as an ‘Upholder’ (I’m a stickler for doing what I say I’ll do – most of the time) so I need external accountability to get me to follow through with something. Asking Ingrid to hold me accountable and send her the final draft before baby is born has been really helpful for me. Otherwise, if I just promised myself I’d do it, it likely wouldn’t happen because I rarely meet my own expectations.
3. Creating a Routine, Environment or “Ritual”. Or, all three. I’ve found that writing first thing in the morning, upstairs and with music and candles on (such a hippy) is the best way for me to hit my word count.
4. Figure Out What Your Stumbling Block Is. For me, the conversation with another writer helped me to talk through what I needed to do next. Maybe you need some feedback? Help with the plot? Help with character development? To talk to an expert in order to help you research a certain legal or historical aspect? Whatever it is, figure out what you need and then put in place an action plan.
5. Sharpen Your Tools. My computer had been laggy for months and I’d been ignoring it. Then one weekend I asked my husband to take a look, he cleaned up a bunch of stuff on it and voila! Suddenly it works like a dream again. This has made a big difference to how much I enjoy writing. If it’s not your computer, it might be the writing programme you’re using, or maybe you need to implement index cards in order to help you stay on top of a complex plot. I don’t buy into that ‘if you’re a true writer you should be able to write on a napkin’ crap – though Kudos to you if you can . Good tools make writing more enjoyable and your likelihood of finishing SO much easier.
6. Get Inspired. Why are you writing or creating a book in the first place? For me, when I read a good book, it truly is magic. And sometimes, when I’m in a good writing groove, it’s the biggest high I’ve ever experienced. Re-reading a book that made you fall in love with writing in the first place, or reading your favourite writer’s blog, or listening to a podcast interview with an inspirational author can remind you of this magic and re-spark your desire to keep going.
7. Decide When You’ll be Happy to Call it ‘Finished’. TBH, you’ll probably never feel like it is, and this can be one reason a book sits on a shelf, or gets edited to death for too many years. Commit to getting feedback / critique once you’ve reached a certain milestone, and allow yourself to call it fat that point. Then open up a big bottle of bubbly and go celebrate. (Until your editor gets back to you with rewrites, at least!)
That’s 7 tips that I’ve found to help (I’ll let you know if I’m still on track in 2 weeks’ time!) – do you have any nuggets of wisdom to add to the list?