How to Finish Writing a Book: Where to Begin?
I was asked yesterday, by someone who aspires to be a professional writer, how to get started on her first novel. In the same hour, I was asked how to finish a book!
So, here’s a quick post with some thoughts on beginning and ending your writing projects, and specifically, how to finish writing a book.
Let’s start with some reflections on the very idea of beginnings. The act of beginning is in itself an act of faith, an act of hope, an act which demonstrates, surely, some confidence in the future, in outcomes, in the achieve-ability of an ultimate objective, even if that objective is merely to finish.
Let’s think about this in terms of the craft and practice of writing, and more specifically writing fiction.
There seem to be two key experiences among writers (and novice writers especially) and they seem to be quite opposed one to the other. So let’s take a look at how to finish writing a book.
On the one hand, there are those who struggle horribly with every demon of distraction and every possible form of procrastination to get anywhere close to the point of actually beginning; writing that first word seems to present itself to such persons as an all but insuperable barrier to any progress at all. Indeed the worst afflicted may never succeed in starting anything!
The Enthusiastic Starter (Who Never Finishes)
Then there are those who find nothing easier than to set about a new idea with great enthusiasm and bash out a fair draft of the beginning of a story or a novel; but then they lose heart, or latch onto another, newer idea and start another beginning. The worst afflicted in this manner may produce, during a lifetime, many millions of beautiful words, but not so much as one completed story.
A Writer’s Most Important Skill
Learning to finish what you begin is the first most important skill for any writer who wishes to be read and better, be paid by the reader for the pleasure.
Oh, it took me a long, long time to learn this in principle – and longer again to learn how to put the principle into practice. I have my fair share of unfinished works. In truth most of them aren’t worth finishing as they are also from a period in my writing life when I hadn’t the foggiest notion about the craft. Whilst I still have much to learn, I flatter myself that I can now turn a good tale at least.
Writing and Revision
And now, usually after a quantity and depth of planning commensurate with the length and complexity of the tale to be told, I plunge straight in and get started and I keep going until I reach the end. That’s the only way I know how to finish writing a book. It isn’t always easy. In fact, to be honest with you, it is rarely, if ever easy. It is usually a very mixed bag of anxiety, self-doubt and determination. Grim determination.
And here’s a paradox for you: the beginning of the craft of writing usually only starts after you’ve finished. Because finishing the first draft of anything is only to have stumbled over the first of many, many hurdles that must be leaped over before you can reach the real finishing line of subsequent publication.
There are the hurdles of developmental editing (does the plot work? Is there sufficient conflict? Is the pacing right? Is it consistent and satisfying? Is the conclusion both logical and surprising?) There are the hurdles of characterization, phrasing, dialogue, description and on and on in seemingly endless rounds of revision.
Good Writing Is Rarely Finished in One Go
And there’s another fact that comes out of this extended metaphor of the hurdle race: you have to do several laps of the circuit before the race is over and you can truly say that the job is finished and the race is won.
Why are there so few professional sportspeople? Why are there even fewer hurdle racers? Because to achieve even moderate success in such an endeavor requires determination, resilience, a willingness to fail, fall, pick yourself up and push on and fail again and push on regardless, to train until you fear you might die of it; and such powerful single-mindedness is rare. And it must always be cultivated.
So I began this post talking about beginnings. Without beginnings there can be no endings. And every time I begin, I face the prospect of failure. And every time I begin, I am driven on regardless by the determination to succeed. This is the only way I know how to finish writing a book, a short story, an article, or indeed, a blog post.
The only good reason to start something is because you intend to finish it. The only way to reach the finishing line is to get started.
Quad erat demonstrandum.
And while I only have five books released to date (all published in 2016) I am practicing what I preach. I have another novel and three novellas in progress and all scheduled for release by the end of this year. And that’s on top of my “day job” as a commercial copywriter. Don’t ask me how many thousands of pieces I’ve started and finished for that!
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