You’ve embraced your love for writing.
And it just might be your favorite thing in the world (next to your spouse, your children, or your Pembroke Welsh Corgi, of course).
You enjoy the solitude, the creative control, the opportunity to fashion worlds and identities out of thin air.
You create complex and captivating characters, giving their lives purpose and meaning.
It’s a powerful feeling, isn’t it?
You’ve figured out how to write scenes, chapters, and dialogue.
You’ve even figured out how and when to use an Oxford comma.
The problem, however, is that you just can’t seem to finish writing your story.
You know where you want to go, but you can’t seem to get there.
And you go round and round with questions:
- Is my story strong enough?
- Are my characters interesting enough?
- Why doesn’t this feel right?
If you’ve tried everything, and you’re still coming up short, the problem isn’t likely your story…
It’s something else—something else entirely.
Let’s take a closer look at the most common problem areas.
Problem #1: You Are the Writing Problem
Now that I have your attention, allow me to clarify…
The problem with you is that you think writing this book is who you are.
This book is entwined with your identity.
At this moment, your book defines you—past, present, and future.
Sure, writing is a key component of your personality; it gives you a unique perspective.
And when you look at the world, you view it differently than most. You’re asking questions, making connections, taking notes for later use.
Your love of words, your life experiences, your reading list… These elements form your identity.
And these elements set the stage for something awesome, something powerful.
But this is also where the trouble begins. These associations create massive expectations—life and death consequences.
Fortunately, for you, the consequences aren’t real.
While your latest book or writing project may feel like a life-or-death endeavor, it doesn’t have to be.
It shouldn’t be, either.
I know. I’ve felt this way, too, like my self-worth was inextricably bound to my success as a writer.
Your favorite authors aren’t helping, either. Annie Dillard says,
“Write as if you were dying. At the same time, assume you write for an audience consisting solely of terminal patients. That is, after all, the case. What would you begin writing if you knew you would die soon? What could you say to a dying person that would not enrage by its triviality?”
Franz Kafka certainly cranks up the pressure:
“I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound or stab us. If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow to the head, what are we reading for? So that it will make us happy, as you write? Good Lord, we would be happy precisely if we had no books, and the kind of books that make us happy are the kind we could write ourselves if we had to. But we need books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is my belief.”
Remember, you’re writing a book, nothing more, nothing less: a creation with a beginning, a middle, and an end. You’ll still be you before, during, and after the writing process. You’re in control. This book is your creation.
It’s not creating you.
Think about the distinction.You’re writing a book, nothing more, nothing less: a creation with a beginning, a middle, and an end. You’ll still be you after the writing process. You’re in control. This book is your creation. It’s not creating you. Think about the distinction. Click To Tweet
Its future success or failure doesn’t define you. When it’s finished, you’ll write another (and another).Your book's success or failure doesn’t define you. When it’s finished, you’ll write another (and another). Click To Tweet
But you’ll never get there if you can’t separate yourself from your work.
Problem #2: You’re Trying to Creating Art
You’re invested in this image. You want your work to transcend everything: death, limitations, mediocrity.
Secretly, you wanna’ be the next Tolstoy, Hemingway, or Faulkner.
And hitting the bestseller list would be awesome, too.
What, exactly, is art?
Ask a few experts, and you’ll find differing opinions.
Making art is about as clear as mud.
Nevertheless, it’s what you crave.
You want to create something meaningful, worthy, exquisite. Unfortunately, this desire creates greater frustration.
This quest for status triggers a steady stream of doubts:
- What if I’m not good enough?
- What if no one buys my book?
- What if the buyers/readers hate my book?
What could you possibly do to overcome these universal worries?
Dial up the pressure (as if you didn’t feel enough already).
Trying to control the outcome constricts the flow.
It’s like editing while you’re writing. You’re trying to create, and you’re judging it as it comes out.
Forget about art while you’re writing. Forget about outcomes. Focus on the next sentence on the page, the scene that’s unfolding now, the scene you’ll unwrap tomorrow.Forget about art while you’re writing. Forget about outcomes. Focus on the next sentence on the page, the scene that’s unfolding now, the scene you’ll unwrap tomorrow. Click To Tweet
Leave the art discussions to the critics.
Your job is to write. Keep writing, and you’ll finish.
Finish, and you’ll have something original, something magical, something you can be proud of.
Problem #3: Your Timeline Isn’t Helping Your Writing Output
Few things motivate as well as a looming deadline.
Deadlines force us into unprecedented productivity.
But how realistic is your timeline? How do you know?
Other questions to consider:
- Have you completed a book before?
- Do you know how long it takes to bang out a chapter?
- Will your daily word count get you to the finish line on time?
- Is your word count realistic? How do you know?
Questions, and more questions.
If your timeline isn’t realistic, or it’s just guesswork, you’re setting yourself up for frustration.
Pile on enough frustration, and you’ll quit. Quit often enough, and you’ll fail.
So, what can you do, especially if you have limited experience?
Create modest, achievable deadlines.
Often, when we’re confronted with a large task, we overestimate what we can achieve. Cut your expectations in half. If you find yourself exceeding those expectations, make incremental adjustments.
Break the process down to individual chunks (a scene per day, a chapter a day). Create a calendar with achievable benchmarks, and record your progress.
And make sure to celebrate the wins, the days when you meet your goals.
Problem #4: The Variables of Novel Writing Are Weighing You Down
Birthing a book is like birthing a child, except that your body doesn’t know WTF it’s doing.
The process is horribly unnatural: keeping odd hours, trying to meet arbitrary deadlines, trying to jumpstart your creativity on a daily basis.
And all the unknowns will drive you crazy.
When you finish your draft, you’ll need to revise, revise again, edit, get feedback, hire designers, tackle formatting, figure out distribution. How much do you know about traditional vs. indie publishing?
And if these issues aren’t enough, you’ll need to market the damned thing.
OMG. You might even need a blog, social media accounts, and gasp—legal advice about pen names, copyrights, filing a DBA, and opening a business account.
Again, like problem number three, you’ll need to add these items to your calendar. Once they’re scheduled, you can go back to writing your book.
See what I did there?
It’s the same thing your mind does. It worries about potential problems before they’ve arrived.
It’s a great way to overwhelm your nervous system. And while you’re trying to reboot, you’ve wasted days of productive writing time.
So, schedule it, and forget it. When the time arrives, deal with each issue.
If new issues arise, add them to the end of your calendar.
The most important thing is to keep writing.
And if your worries keep cutting into your writing time, schedule some worry time.
I’m not kidding; it’s a thing.
Unless you have sufficient experience, nothing prepares you for the book-writing process.
So, make writing your top priority.
Problem # 5: You Can’t Remember Why You Started This Writing Project
How many times have you lost your way during a writing project? It could be a scene, a chapter, a difficult paragraph.
Midway through the process, you find yourself standing among the weeds. They’re so high, you can’t see your way back to the beginning.
Once we’ve immersed ourselves in a project, it’s easy to become disoriented. We’re so deep into the process, we lose vital information. We look around and think, ”how did I get here?”
While writing a book, this sense of feeling lost happens routinely. We look back and wonder whether we can fit all the pieces together:
- Will my reader connect the dots?
- Have I written myself into a corner?
- I don’t remember what I was thinking…
You may feel as though you’ve lost the person who began the project, the one who understood the big picture.
You’ve lost your compass.
Worse, you’ve lost your why.
Still, you have a vague sense of why you started. You’d fallen in love with an idea, a theme, a dysfunctional family of characters.
With every new chapter, though, things changed just enough to push you off course.
Now, you’re losing hope.
How to reconnect with your why
To reconnect with your why, revisit your opening scenes, your opening chapter. Revisit your inciting incident.
Scour your notes for an early outline, a first draft of your synopsis.
If you can’t find anything to light your way, grab some index cards or post-it notes to reorganize your plot.
Sometimes, we find our character side trips compelling. Often, though, you’ll need to remove the parts that don’t work. Each character’s action should move the story forward toward your ultimate goal.
Finally, sit down with your protagonist, and find out what he/she wants. Ask about short-term and long-term goals. Find out what’s standing in his/her way, what obstacles (real or imagined) are blocking the path.
If you’re still coming up short, interview your antagonist. Discover the many agendas, as well as the reasons why he/she is so fixated on ruining your protagonist.
This midstream reality check should help you put the pieces back in order.
Finally, create an outline. Save it, and follow it.
First, take a moment to appreciate yourself: your talent, your dedication, your creativity.
Realize that your writing difficulties are normal.
Actually, they’re better than normal. These stages and growing pains have purpose; they demonstrate important truths:
- You’re concerned about quality
- You’re concerned about adding value to the world
- You’re pushing yourself to expand, to grow, to rise up a level with your craft.
- You’re joining a long tradition of thought leaders—people who change minds and hearts.
So, celebrate exactly where you are with your writing.
Lighten up the pressure on yourself, on your writer identity. It’s a day on the job.
You’re sharing something meaningful to you. That’s enough. You’re not trying to cure cancer.
A timeline serves one purpose: to keep you moving forward. Forgive yourself, and adjust as needed.
Embrace the process and the mysteries as they unfold. It’s part of the fun.
Remind yourself daily why you write.
Enjoy your path. You chose it for good reasons.
It’s your turn.
Tell us about your experience.
What’s keeping you from finishing your book?
Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
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