How To Write a Book from Start to Finish


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.

How to Write a Book

Photo by Jeremy Shultz

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.

I’ve quit.

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 goodIt 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!

Write Free

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:

  1. 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!)
  2. 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.
  3. Move into the pain-cloud, and as it surrounds you, scream at the pain, “I love pain!”
  4. 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:

  1. “Bring on the pain!”
  2. “I love pain!”
  3. “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.

Comments

    Speak Your Mind

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  1. You’re right about one thing, finishing is the hardest part of writing a book length work. Good suggestions, though, on how to keep butt in seat to get it done.

  2. Sara Beth says:

    I”m working on two manuscripts right now, and I think what happens is after the first draft (first full draft all the way through) then I get super bogged down while I go through and edit. The writing process for me hasn’t been as challenging as of late. What helps me SIGNIFICANTLY is making an outline. Sometimes i write 3 different outlines changing stuff as my book progresses but i always try to keep an outline. Having an outline is incredibly useful for me because it allows me to write the scenes i’m inspired to write first, and then go back to the outline to find out what i should write next so i don’t lose track of my progress. This actually helps relieve me from writer’s block. Sometimes writer’s block occurs because i don’t know what should come next in the story I am working on. When I can go back to the outline of my sketched out ideas, I can see ‘oh this is where my story is supposed to go.’ Or i can change things around, etc. Obviously this is not the only time writer’s block occurs. I have been writing (just personally) for 10 years and as SOON as i started using outlines in my writing, my writing took off and now I am almost ready to submit to agents etc. However, again, the editing process is bogging me down blah!

  3. Joe, your stuff is always so good and I really value it. You are such a help to writers everywhere!

    This was very timely for me. I have written 60K words of a memoir of being made housebound with an illness that most doctors don’t believe exists. I reckon I need to write about 20k more! then cut 40K words somehow (the rubbish bits??) I just wanna quit, and I am facing resistance like you wouldn’t believe, a year after starting this thing.

    Thanks – this has given me fresh energy. I might need to print this out and frame it…

  4. I’ve written four books, too, Joe (novels)! The first two sucked, but the last two I truly believe are good enough to be published. My literary agent left the biz this fall before we starting submitting my novel. I’m debating what’s next….anyhoo, INTERESTING post. I just ordered The Tools. Any guys that give advice to writers that wins them academy awards, I want to learn from them! Thanks.

  5. Olegario Baliton says:

    Hi Joe,

    It sure editing is a hard task but I edited my first soon to be published memoir for more than the numbers of my 20 digits of my hands and feet combined. It’s about an unrequited love that I had cradled in my crazy mind for more than a decade and I think I will be fulfilled if I will let the world know about my fear-to be discovered.

    Though hard it seems but I enjoyed doing it like I’m becoming a fault-finder to my own work(LOL).

    I’m very excited to be part of the story cartel if it opens.

    Thanks we’ve crossed our paths into writing that I found a wise mentor for a newbie writer like me.

  6. You are stellar, Joe! Thank you!

  7. I’ve been working on the same novel for over two years, and I can’t count how many times I’ve wanted to quit. But the one thing that keeps me going is that I am doing this for a much higher purpose than just what I might feel at the moment.
    I have found that what you say is true: expressing your whole self, good and bad, helps keep you going, and makes your story more real.
    I’m a beginning writer, and I really appreciate the tips you give in your emails!

    “Whatever you do, do all to the Glory of God”

  8. You didn’t mention NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), so I assume you are not familiar with it. Their site is http://nanowrimo.org

    Parcipants get to interact with writers around the world. There are pep talks from professional Authors. They teach to write first, no editing until you are done (there is a reason the first draft is also called the first draft: it is the brainstorming session of writing. No idea is bad at this stage). The folks at Literature and Latte have offered discount coupons for Scrivener to people who confirm they have reached the word count. The free trial period for Scrivener is 30 days, NaNoWriMo is 30 days (every November), Scrivener has made NaNo tools available for Scrivener.

    • Thanks Alan. I’ve been following allowing with NaNoWriMo for over 5 years. The strategies in this post would work very well for someone who’s doing NaNoWriMo. However, even if you do “win,” most people have a lot more work to do to finish a publishable manuscript. Not only is 50,000 words too short to publish, but too few people are ready to do the kind of editing and rewriting it takes to finish a publishable book, unfortunately. NaNoWriMo is great, but it’s not a good enough strategy in and of itself!

  9. I stil don’t get how to write a book

    • I need more details of how to write a book about my family but it is to hard and its just like how to write a book. Anyone can help I appreciate the help

  10. Hi everyone I’m in the third page of my episode, I think i’m gonna write the same story, it’s about my life as a gardener to become a General manager. So please anyone who can help me come forward.