M.D. Johnson is a poet, playwright, author, and blogger. She has a BA in English and a Masters of Management in Business.
Sure, life can catch up with you, distract you, and absorb all your time, unless of course it’s your day job to write books. However if you are a hobbyist, part-timer, or if writing is your dream job, and you find it hard to finish that book you have been dying to write, I’ll give you some advice from the world I live in.
The first book I ever published was an accumulation of poetry and plays from my adolescence through the college years. My second book, even though it was about 600 pages, I practically wrote non-stop from cover to cover, but I had the time and of course the passion. That said, now that life takes me in all kinds of directions simultaneously with the tic-tock of the clock, I scarcely find the time and energy, but there are a multitude of tips that I can provide you, some I’ve tried, to be a finisher.
1. Write in your down time, even if it means having a pen and writing pad handy in the bathroom on the magazine rack; (to elongate this time span, don’t drink Prune juice or take ex-lax☺). Write while you are in the waiting room, write while you are in a long grocery store line on the notepad of your phone, write whenever time permits a small channel or opportunity of time.
2. Set deadlines and implement punishments when you fall short of the deadline and a reward system when you accomplish what you set out to accomplish ahead of schedule.
3. Try what I call the Puzzle Piece Method, meaning writing a little at a time until you’ve completed the whole puzzle so to speak. For example, I publish a novella series, opposed to waiting to finish the whole book. It keeps it interesting and it keeps it live. Some may not like this method since you can’t exactly go back and change the beginning of the story, and because you have to keep up with all the details, but it is do-able and quite fun. It will not only keep your reader on their feet, or the edge of their seat, but you as well, unless you planned your story from start to finish, but even so, who doesn’t anticipate changes or development within a story? It makes it feel a bit like improv theatre or live footage, -book wise, but that’s what gives it its spark. You can also use the Puzzle Piece Method by writing articles that are to develop into a book if non-fiction is your genre or use this method even with poetry. This works, as you do a little over time, that will help you complete your mission sooner than if you procrastinated and felt overwhelmed by having to finish a complete book.
4. Depending on your genre, I find it best to start with an outline, or the skeletal structure or bones of your book. This will give you some direction. Get as detailed as possible, chapter by chapter if you can, and even bullet point details of what will be in each chapter. And don’t worry, it’s just a rough draft plan and can change. The key is, once you have outlined what you plan to write, and segmented it by chapter, it becomes easier to write.
5. Stay inspired. Sometimes writers simply fall out of love with their book fling affair. Keep it interesting by any means, stay engaged; write while sipping wine in candlelight to jazz if need be. If you get bored with your book, I can only imagine that the reader would too. So brainstorm on ways to make it interesting or bring the magic back. What inspired you to write it in the first place? Don’t lose sight of your purpose, the reason you fell in love with the idea of your story or topic.
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6. Just in case you end up not making it to the finish line because of all the confusion that can ensue in a story, use story and character maps. Use a bulletin board or your wall and some post it notes so you can keep up with all the action in your story, add pictures in likeness to your characters or pictures of locations for your setting, whatever will map it all out for you. It may look like a police evidence board, but at least it will help you stay on task opposed to not finishing your story due to confusion.
7. If time is what you lack, and the very thing preventing you from making it to the finish line, why not plan a vacation or attend a writing retreat for a week or so if you can spare the time? Sometimes it all boils down to making the time, and if you can’t do it in small intervals of your daily schedule, why not make it a massive amount of time, in which you can fully concentrate on the writing of your book and your book alone?
8. Along with the setting of deadlines and a punishment and reward system, I might add, setting an actual date of which you want the book completed, maybe by December, the end of the year. As time goes on and procrastination ensues, more often than not you will go into panic mode and get the ball rolling as the date approaches, some writers just work better under pressure. I set the objective of completing 100 children’s books by the end of the year, and I didn’t quite make it to 100, more like 85 or so, but it’s close enough and an accomplishment in and of itself. Whatever it takes to apply the pressure, by all means, implement it. We all need a little push now and then.
9. Seek motivation. Maybe this means joining a writer’s group, maybe it means reading some of your favorite, inspiring novels, maybe it means posting to a variety of online writer’s social networks for feedback. Whatever will keep you motivated to be a finisher, by all means, engage.
10. Sometimes to finish a race, you need the right gear, the best, most well-equipped running shoes out there; for the writer, this may translate to a new iMac, a new typewriter, a specialized pen and notebook, etc. Sometimes having the right gear, or new gear, is motivation or inspiration enough to finish that book. Whatever will well-equip you to finish the job. Sometimes you get a new toy that you can’t get enough of playing with, maybe this is the key to being a finisher.
If none of these suggestions help you to become a finisher, then you haven’t adopted the notion that writing a book is a race to the finish line. I say it is, and that your major competitor is yourself; you decide where the finish line is and it’s up to you to make it there. If you aren’t in any kind of shape to make the run, it’s time to train to win the race, so you too can be a finisher.