Sometimes, the most difficult part of writing a book is simply finishing your manuscript. After putting in so much work, how can you get that book to the finish line?
Perhaps you have fallen into the same unproductive routine that’s enveloped me many times over the years. Get a great idea—this is the one! Jot it down. Make notes. Wait until you’re at your computer, and then type away, cranking out as many details as you can remember from the initial burst of inspiration. This is the one that will make my writing known.
And then, about a month and twenty thousand words later…a new great idea! Scratch that old one, this new one is where I need to focus my writing energy.
It’s cyclical. Until one day you manage to snap the cycle and actually finish a manuscript—which has happened to me three times. How many not-quite-finished or was-once-a-great-idea-until-it-wasn’t-anymore drafts do I have saved on my computer? Dozens. A good fifteen or twenty for every book I have completed.
That’s just the way it goes sometimes. I’m here to say that it doesn’t always have to go that way. Sure, there are manuscripts you should ditch for various reasons. But there is an unrivaled satisfaction in finishing writing a book. Here are some tips I have used over the years to complete my book manuscripts.
How to Finish Writing Your Book Manuscript
1. Take a Deep Breath
Falling short of completing a manuscript happens for a number of reasons. Maybe life just got too busy (that happens to all of us). Perhaps it’s the anxiety of letting go of the story, or trying to perfect the ending. Whatever the reason, you can overcome it.
The first thing you need to do is take a deep breath and reset your mind for the final stretch. Consider it a sprint. You don’t need stamina for this, just the willingness to finish strong. Ready your mind and go.
If you write like I do, as you approach the end of your draft the initial brainstorm that you created before starting the book does not quite line up with where you are now. That’s okay. As you write, the story should change and evolve. Sure, some writers can outline an entire book and then sit down and write it according to plan, but most work is fluid.
Use this time to reassess your plot and your characters. How does their story end? What scenes will you still need to write? Do you need to leave the door open for a sequel? The list of questions you need to ask yourself is immense, but those answers are what will make that final stretch so much easier to tackle.
3. Set a schedule
This is something I also discussed in my post about how to find more time to write. It’s easy to get motivated to sit down and write one day. Can you do that two days in a row? Three? Seven? Twenty?
Creating a writing schedule makes that much easier. Make sure it’s sensible and fits into your busy life. It can be an hour in the early morning hours before the kids wake up. It could be punching out a couple hundred words on a lunch break. It can be writing by candlelight with your quill and parchment. Honestly, whatever time you can set aside each day, consistently, is critical.
That’s what’s going to get your manuscript finished. And, frankly, if that just doesn’t seem feasible or enjoyable, writing books may not be in the cards.
4. Avoid Distractions
If you cannot figure out a way to avoid distractions, no advice I offer to help you finish your book manuscript will help. The main culprits: The Internet, social media, email, phones, family members.
This isn’t to say that those things shouldn’t have a place in your life (obviously), but keep them separate from your writing time. Surf the web. Check your Twitter and email. Text your friend and cook your family dinner. Those things are part of life. And then when it’s time to write, leave your phone in the other room, disconnect your Wifi and just write.
5. Create Good Habits
This, at the end of the day, is what will get you to the finish line. I suppose it is also a culmination of the four previous steps as well. Good habits start small. If you have ever read James Clear’s Atomic Habits (which I highly recommend), you know that habits do not start with major changes.
Saying you want to write 10,000 words to finish your novel is not going to help you form good habits. Saying you want to write 2,000 words per week is also not going to help you form good habits. You need to start small. So small that it doesn’t even feel like it’s making an impact. Write one sentence. Make yourself sit down at your computer and write one more sentence. Do that every day. Don’t worry about your total word count. That will come with time, I promise.
Once something is a habit, you stop thinking about it. Soon, opening your computer and writing a sentence will be as routine as brushing your teeth. And you don’t stop at one sentence. You write two. A paragraph. One day, a whole chapter. It doesn’t matter how much, in reality. But, as Jodi Picoult said, “You can’t edit a blank page.”