Note: This is Part 2 in a series I’m writing this week on how to finish your writing projects. In this post, I’ll talk about how to write a book (even when you want to quit). Read part 1 here.
How do you write a book? If you’re reading this, you probably know how to start writing a book. In fact, you probably have already started writing at least one and maybe several books. It’s easy to start writing a book; you just get a great idea, write a few lines on paper, and there, you’ve started.
What’s less obvious is how to finish writing a book. That’s what this article is about.
What Gives Me the Right to Talk About How to Write a Book?
That’s a good question, because I’ve definitely read my fair share of blog posts about how to write a book by wannabe authors. Maybe you have, too. It’s easy to talk about how to do something, but it’s a lot harder to actually do it.
What makes me qualified to talk about this?
Beside the fact that I’ve written four books, I’ve done something that makes me even more qualified.
Some writers make it look easy. They pound out book after book, year after year. In fact, I know one writer who prides himself in being able to write 10 books in a year.
That’s not me.
I struggle through each one. Every time I write a book, at some point during the process there’s a moment when I want to give up, when I want to quit writing not just that book, but writing any book, ever again. And for each book I’ve written, I’ve quit three others.
Honestly, I’ve never written a book that was easy. If you’re reading this, you probably know how hard it is to write a book until it’s finished, too. I would bet you have a whole desk drawer or folder on your computer littered with the remains of unfinished books.
So how then do you write a book (and finish it)?
Two Tools You Need to Finish Writing Your Book
There are lots of little tips and tricks you learn along the way as a writer, and I’ve compiled a bunch of them at the end of this article. However, I don’t think a list of tips solves the essential question of how write a book until it’s finished.
All the tips in the world won’t help you finish writing if you don’t want to finish, and that’s what happens to most people as they write. They know they should write their book, but the process of writing so demoralizes and humiliates them their desire completely disintegrates.
That’s why I want to give you two tools that will help you keep your desire to write going. If you need further tips to write your book, you can find them at the end of the article. In the meantime, let’s learn how to fix our desire.
Write to Express Yourself (Especially Your Flaws)
We all want to be known. Self-expression is ingrained in all of our DNA, and I think that’s why most of us want to write a book in the first place. There’s no other artistic form that allows you the freedom of self-expression as a book.
However, when you write a book, you don’t just want to write something that expresses who you are. You also want to write a book that’s good. It makes complete sense, because you want people to read your book after all!
This presents a problem, though, because there are pieces of yourself that aren’t very good. In fact, you probably have things inside of you that you’re pretty desperate to hide. I know I do!
We want to express ourselves, but not all of ourselves. For example, in the 5th grade, I was made fun of for wearing bright red shorts that were way too short. The kids in my class called me a girl, and I became very focused on hiding two things: 1) my skinny white legs, 2) and any emotion whatsoever. I became stoic and cold, and even today, I struggle to fully express myself. It’s amazing I’ve written anything at all!
It doesn’t matter whether you write fiction or non-fiction. That piece of yourself you want to keep hidden is going to make your writing really difficult, especially when you’re focused on writing something good.
What do you do then? Stop trying to write something that’s good. Instead, write free. (Share that on Twitter?)
When you write you need that ugly side of yourself. In fact, that side of yourself that you’re trying to keep hidden is actually the secret to your creativity. Not only that, everyone else has an ugly side they’re trying to keep hidden too. And only by getting in touch with yours can you write something universal that touches your readers.
When you try to write something good, when you try to hide that ugly side of yourself, you’re bound to get writer’s block because you’re denying your whole self the right to self-expression.
How do you keep wanting to write your book? Don’t try to write something that’s good. Focus on trying to write something that’s you (that includes the side of you you’re trying so hard to hide).
Writing a Book Hurts. Learn to Enjoy the Pain.
The second step to wanting to finish your book is to learn to enjoy the pain.
Huh? Enjoy the pain? Isn’t the called masochism?
You already know writing hurts. You probably wouldn’t be reading this if you haven’t found writing really really hard. However, I’ve found that writers are some of the best pain-avoiders in the world. Before the days of social media, writers distracted themselves by abusing alcohol and drugs. Mark Twain’s favorite writing-avoidance-tactic was actually to write letters. Today, Facebook and Twitter are probably the most popular way writers avoid the pain of the blank page.
You can use tools like Self-Control (for Mac) or Freedom (for PC), but these don’t address the underlying issue. How can you make yourself want to endure the pain of writing? Since you can’t write a book without experiencing pain, is it possible to make the pain desirable rather than something to be avoided?
There is, actually. I discovered this amazing exercise in a book called The Tools by Phil Stutz and Barry Michels (affiliate link), two psychologists who have become “shrinks to the stars,” helping some of the most successful writers and producers in Hollywood fix their creative blocks.
Here’s how the exercise works:
Exercise: The Pain Cloud
Whenever you’re struggling to write and want to avoid the pain, follow these three steps:
- Imagine the pain as a dark, scary storm cloud in front of you. Visualise what your pain looks like. (Mine usually has some lightning bolts shooting from it!)
- Stare the pain-cloud down and shout, “Bring on the pain.” You can’t wait to experience the pain, because with the pain comes creative breakthrough.
- Move into the pain-cloud, and as it surrounds you, scream at the pain, “I love pain!”
- Suddenly, you break out of the cloud of pain into the sun. As you escape, scream, “Pain sets me free!”
This visualization exercise might sound silly, but if you use it when you’re feeling distracted from your writing, you will not just be able to tolerate the pain of writing, you’ll actually begin to enjoy it. Remember the three sayings:
- “Bring on the pain!”
- “I love pain!”
- “Pain sets me free!”
With practice, you can do this exercise in three seconds. Feel free to use it over and over again as you face your pain.
(And for other awesome exercises like this, check out The Tools.)
How to WANT to Finish Your Book
The hardest part of writing a book is to keep wanting to write it. Many people believe that their desire is outside of their control. That they can’t make themselves want to do anything, let alone write a book. This is a horrible lie.
You can control your desire. You can finish writing your book. You can make yourself want to write it (even if you don’t want to write it right now!).
It starts by focusing on expressing your whole self, especially the sides of yourself you normally want to keep hidden. Next is to learn to desire the pain and to stop trying to avoid it.
It won’t be easy. Anyone trying to tell you writing a book is easy is lying to you. However, if you can do it, it’s one of the most rewarding experiences in life. Good luck!
13 Tips to Write a Book
Need more tips to finish writing your book? Here are 13 tips to tide you over:
- Got writer’s block? Try this.
- Find a Cartel. Get to know other writers. Becoming friends with other writers can provide emotional support during those times when you want to quit. And when they tell you they’ve just finished writing their book, it will motivate you all the more to finish yours. To make friends with other writers, search online for writer’s groups in your area, join an online writing community, or take a writing class.
- Get Scrivener. Microsoft Word is a good word processor for short documents and essays, but it sucks for writing books. Books are just too big and complicated. Instead, get Scrivener.
- Three Drafts. Writing a book is just the beginning. Next, you need to edit it. It takes (at least) three drafts. Here’s a good resource on how to edit your book until it’s finished.
- Write fast. Edit slow. Most writer’s process is fast first draft, slow second draft, fast final draft. It’s easier to be creative when you’re writing quickly, but editing is generally slow business. However, some writers like to write a slow first draft, followed by a comparatively fast draft for editing.
- Don’t Worry About Themes. If you’re writing fiction, don’t worry about what your book “means” until you’re at least halfway through. Meaning will emerge as the characters face conflict.
- Talk Your Book Out. Some people communicate better through speaking than writing. Try getting a tape recorder and recording yourself speaking, either to yourself or when you speak at an event. Then, transcribe the recording (or get someone to transcribe it for you)
- Read. Think you know everything about your subject/genre? Think again. Read as many books similar to yours as you can. If you haven’t, your readers will be able to tell.
- Write Every Day. The more you write, the easier it gets. It’s becomes harder to write when you write irregularly.
- Outline Your Book. Some writers don’t like them, but I recommend creating an outline of your book, especially if you write non-fiction. It gives you the freedom to jump around in your topic/story and helps you know what to write next when you finish the section/scene you’re working on.
- Word Count Challenges. Word count challenges work for most people. Try to write 500 words a day, and don’t quit writing until you can write that much. They don’t have to be good, but they do have to be done.
- Practice In Public. Publish pieces of your book on your blog. This is a great way to stay motivated, get feedback, and practice putting your writing out in public. This is one of the best ways to improve as a writer. Note: Some fiction publishers will reject your book if any of it has been published in any form (this rarely happens in the non-fiction realm). I think these publishers are short-sighted and stupid, but that’s just me. While many publishers are changing their policy on this, if you write fiction, you may want to share with a writing group instead of publishing it online.
- Hire a proofreader. Or make sure your publisher hires one. There’s nothing worse than righting a book with a ton of typos (see what I did there?).
Note: This is Part 2 in a series I’m writing this week on how to finish your writing projects. You can read part 1 here. If you don’t want to miss a thing, make sure you’re signed up for email updates.
How about you? Do you struggle with wanting to quit writing your book? How do you deal with it? Share in the comments section.