They’re longer and take a lot more time and discipline to finish.
Most writers are going through the process of writing and publishing a book blind. And without the right process (or help) in place, it’s easy to fall off the rails and end up with only half a manuscript shoved in a desk drawer somewhere collecting dust.
Most writers fail to finish writing a book because they don’t have a process to keep them accountable in order to finish.
But that’s where we come in.
How to Finish Writing a Book
Obviously you’re ready to commit—to take the leap and actually finish your book.
Maybe you’ve struggled for a few months or maybe you’ve been trying to finish your book for years. Either way, we’ve got the best tips to actually complete your manuscript.
#1 – Outline
The best way to finish a project (and finish it quickly!) is to have a plan. A book’s plan is your outline.
Now, not everyone is on board with book outlines. There are “plotters,” there are “pantsers,” and there are the in-betweeners (which we affectionately call “plotsers”).
However, even writers who finish books regularly and claim they are vehemently against outlines are usually outlining.
What’s the difference between pantsers and plotters?
“Pantsers” tend to call their first draft something like a discovery draft, or draft zero, or, as Nora Roberts calls it, the piece of shit draft.
Even though they say they don’t outline, this first draft is a type of outline.
Even though Stephen King says, “Outlines are the last resource of bad fiction writers,” we know what he really means is, “My first draft is actually a type of outline, and that’s the method I’ve found that works for me, personally.”
“Prose is architecture. It’s not interior design.” – Ernest Hemingway
Some people love every single detail planned before they begin writing, while others think outlines make their stories too formulaic. The good news is, there’s a type of outline for everyone! If there isn’t one already penned in existence, you can make. one. up. 😮
There are so many different kinds of outlines:
Extremely detailed outlines with a sentence for every action in each scene
Basic bullet points of the ideas you want to cover, or “first draft” outlines where you plan your book by writing a version of it
“Draft zero,” a pansted first draft, is one you can finish in roughly the same amount of time it takes you to plan and outline your book
You don’t have to follow certain outline rules or guidelines–your outline is a tool for you and the way you work. So find a system that works best and utilize it!
Pro Outlining Tip: If you’re more of a “pantser,” use what I call a “liquid outline.” Let it be flexible as your project progresses. For example, start with a bullet point outline of what you expect to happen, then as you write each chapter, go back and revise your outline when things change. This will keep you on track and organized, but it will also allow you the freedom and on-the-spot creativity of “pantsing” your book.
#2 – Schedule your writing time
A great way to stay productive is to set a writing schedule in order to develop a writing habit.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself in order to finish writing your book:
Which days and times will you write?
How long will you write in each session?
Will you hit a time limit each day, or do you want to reach a certain word count?
Further than scheduling your writing, you can schedule the entire publication process to keep your book on track through production and into marketing!
Having a timeline for drafting, editing, beta rounds, cover, and interior design, book release, marketing, etc., will help you work more efficiently and coordinate the steps that require other people.
For example, many cover designers require you to book months, or even years, in advance! Scheduling and planning will help you stay ahead of possible roadblocks.
#3 – Budget and save
Self-publishing might be more expensive than you think it will be! If you haven’t done it yet, take some time to research possible costs of publishing a book.
For example, do you want a cover designer? A professional editor? Special marketing? Determine out how much it will cost and how long you have to save, then set up a savings plan to be sure you can cover these costs.
Here’s a breakdown of potential costs you have to consider when writing your book:
If you have no idea how to set up a savings plan, Jenna Moreci has a great video on budgeting and savings basics!
If you don’t take the time to budget for book production and save ahead of time, you may happen upon a charge you weren’t expecting and aren’t prepared to pay. Then your options are to halt production to save for it, go without, or take a loan.
Saving ahead of time is much better than all three of those options, so do your research!
If you want more information on the publishing expenses you can expect, check out the video below—and the biggest cost might be the most surprising.
#4 – Be realistic
In scheduling, budgeting, and saving, be realistic about your goals and timelines.
If you convince yourself you have four hours of writing time each day to finish a draft in a month, but you have a full-time job and three kids? That’s probably not a realistic goal.
Maybe you can only write for twenty minutes a day. Maybe you can only write on weekends. Maybe writing a few paragraphs during lunch breaks is your only option for now.
Be honest, be logical, and set goals you have a chance of achieving. While you can always find ways to write faster in order to make the most of that writing time, you still have to set reasonable goals.
Nothing is more demoralizing than never reaching your goals.
#5 – Consider finding a team to hold yourself accountable
I have a critique group with two other writers who are also writing fantasy novels. Every Sunday, we exchange the chapter we wrote that week, as well as the other two writer’s chapters from the previous week with our critique comments.
When utilizing a critique partner or group, I recommend the following:
Find people with similar WIPs
Set up a schedule for swapping chapters, stories, poems, scripts, etc.
Keep open lines of communication!
Having other people expect your routine updates, as well as having other people to discuss issues and setbacks, will help to keep you on track with a writing schedule.
At Self-Publishing School, there’s actually a Mastermind Community each student gets to be a part of where accountability partners run rampant. All these writers are looking for others to help them finish writing their books.
#6 – Make your WIP a part of your life
Let your book take up a lot of real estate in your mind, your home, and your daily life.
As you grow your writing platform and market your book, talk about your work in progress. Tell your friends and family about it.
The more people who know you’re writing a book, the more they’ll ask you about it.
This hold you accountable to actually finish writing your book.
You can even make a Youtube channel, like mine, in order to have more people familiar with you writing a book. (This is also a great strategy to market yourself as a writer)
If you make a physical outline or a moodboard, hang it by your desk where you can see it. Set your main character’s profile sketch as your phone background.
Make it where you can’t skip a writing day without thinking about it.
This will keep your mind working toward solutions for your project every day.
#7 – Power through!
Don’t let yourself get hung up on edits before your draft is finished. Don’t overthink it–just focus on getting through your first draft.
Of course it won’t be perfect!
But, like Nora Roberts said, “you can fix anything but a blank page.”
You can’t edit nothing! Don’t slow down, keep your momentum, and pound out that first draft!
The hardest part of writing a book is finishing the first draft. After that, it’s all downhill so just get it done!
#8 – Avoid burnout
Writing burnout is when you feel like your work is trash. You think you have nothing important to say. Maybe you think no one cares about what you’re writing or maybe you’ve fallen into a pit of writer’s block.
Don’t fall into this hole!
Your first instinct when confronted with writing burnout is usually to stop writing. Never stop writing. Maybe this WIP is sucking your joy, but realize that it isn’t you, and it isn’t your writing–it’s the project.
Try swapping to something a little easier, like a short story or a poem, but set a time to return to your book.
Don’t let so much time slip away that you get too far away to return.