This article is part of my series How to FINISH Your First Novel. They are the basis of a book by the same name, which will include expanded versions of the blog posts along with contributions from fellow writers. So if you have something you’d like to add to the conversation, or if there’s something you want to know more about, please leave a comment at the bottom of the post.
The first step to finishing your first book is committing to finishing your first book.
A pet theory of mine is that every literate human attempts to write a book at some point in her life.
Some people get as far as, “You know, I should write a book!” Then something distracts them: a personal tragedy, the responsibilities of adult life, or a maybe just a shiny object. That is as far as that person gets.
Others might sit down and start writing something. Maybe it’ll be some scribbling in a notebook or a few pages on a word processor.
Then there are the special few who buy a few books on writing, maybe even read a few of them. Then they pick up an expensive notebook and fountain pen, or even buy some fancy writing software, and really take themselves seriously. (I was in this camp for years before finishing my first book.)
None of this is enough. To finish a book, especially the first, requires almost supreme willpower. You need dedication.
My first book took me about three months to write. Then it took another six months to edit and revise. Getting it published, even going the self-publishing route, took another year of revisions, promotions, and pleading with the gods of the pen for some success.
That was about eight years ago, and since then I’ve sold less than 300 copies. You’ve almost certainly never heard of the book or the pen name under which I wrote it. And while it’s still for sale, there’s a good chance you’ll never stumble across it. (I’m certainly not going to tell you where to get it, either. I only keep it available as a reminder that I can and do finish the books I commit to writing.)
So why write, if not for glory and wealth? Well, those were certainly early motivators, but when neither materialized, I kept going. In hindsight, it might have been a masochistic tendency that I’ve seen in a lot of writers. After all, it takes a special kind of gluttony for punishments to put the deepest, darkest bits down on a page and send it out into the world.
But even more than my self-destructive tendencies was the urge to make something. To produce something that was not there before that might benefit someone. Or ten someones. Or a hundred. Or even a thousand.
Most of all, though, I kept working towards getting my book finished because I could. Never underestimate the childish urge to do something just because you can. It will get you through many of the harder times associated with writing your book.
For the vast majority of us, writing a book is an exercise in futility. Getting a publishing deal is about as likely as winning a significant sum on a lottery ticket. Self-publishing means competing for readers and attention with everyone else who couldn’t get a publishing deal.
So why would anyone in their right mind even attempt to write a book? Ultimately, that’s up to you as the writer. But there is no half-measure. You either decide to finish right here and right now, or you put this book down and watch cat videos until the cold embrace of death takes you.
Not really. That’s melodramatic.
But seriously, you need to make a decision. It’s time to commit to finishing that book. It’s never going to get done otherwise, and that would be a real shame.
And here are a few handy tips to get you started on your path to wealth, fame, and glory… or at least publication.
Tip #1: Keep It to Your Damned Self
All right… I’d written several long, witty paragraphs about how you should shout this from the rooftops, but then I watched this video and completely changed my tune.
The gist of it is this: If you want to finish your novel, keep that decision to yourself. This is because telling people about the decision to write a novel triggers all the same pleasure centers as actually writing the thing, which depletes your resolve to follow through.
And all those friends that you think will help keep you on track? Not a chance. Every once in a while, one or two of them might ask, “How’s that writing thing going?” And that’s about all you can expect. Unless you’re finding full-on accountability partners, only tell your friends once you’ve completed the first draft (or later). Then you’ll get a double dose of pleasure: one for finishing the book and another for surprising the people in your life.
Tip #2: Write It Down
If you’re going to commit to yourself to write a novel, then the first thing you should write is that commitment. Put it in a digital note, or on a sticky post on the corner of your monitor, in a journal, or up on a vision board. It doesn’t much matter. Just make a hard copy of your decision and put it somewhere that you can easily see it, or at least find it.
Just remember Tip #1It’s If anyone asks about this goal, you can play coy. Everyone loves a bit of mystery.
Tip #3: Make an ATTAINABLE Plan
A commitment without a plan isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. Make sure to have at least the scaffolding of a plan. You don’t need a schedule (yet), but you should have a rough idea of how much time you have to commit to writing, how much time it’s going to take, and what other commitments you have to work around. You know, day jobs and kids and other such distractions.
It’s also important to look at that ALL-CAPS I shouted at you in the heading… Your plan must be ATTAINABLE. It’s no good having a plan that’s impossible. So make sure to under-promise and over-achieve. You’ll feel better, avoid frustration, and do what you set out to do.
Want more like this? Read the rest of my blog series How to FINISH Your First Novel.
This post is part of a book tentatively titled How to Finish Your First Novel. Please feel free to leave a comment below with your thoughts or feelings, and if you add something to the conversation, then it may make it to the book (along with who contributed).