A while ago, I wrote an entry about how I almost gave up a book, and why that’s okay. In short, the argument behind it was this: If you’re not feeling inspired by your book, or if your book isn’t going anywhere, it’s okay to step away from it. In fact, it could just be exactly what you need – some healthy time and distance away from it, and inspiration could come from unexpected places.
And maybe, just maybe, it’s not the book you were meant to write. In which case, set it aside. In the future, you might come back to it, you might not. Maybe it just wasn’t meant to be.
And that’s okay.
That’s a quick and easy way for a person (myself included) to get caught in a spiral of new projects, new ideas, new concepts…and no finished books.
Look, let’s face it, creative types can be a little flighty. We’re easily distracted by new things, and our project of the day can easily become tomorrow’s garbage in favor of a newer, shinier toy.
But do that long enough, and you’ll soon realize you’ve gone years without finishing a book, and will get discouraged about the idea of ever getting published.
The only way you’re ever going to get a book published is by finishing the damn thing.
The solution, theoretically, is simple – just keep writing.
I’ve gone through, and am still going through, this process, so I know how freaking hard it is to get across the finish line. And here are my tricks that I’ve used to get myself over that hump. I’d love to hear your ideas and suggestions, too.
Trick 1: Planning (for architects) – “I’m not inspired by the story anymore”
The writing world is filled with, as George R.R. Martin put it, architects and gardeners. Here’s his full quote:
I think there are two types of writers, the architects and the gardeners. The architects plan everything ahead of time, like an architect building a house. They know how many rooms are going to be in the house, what kind of roof they’re going to have, where the wires are going to run, what kind of plumbing there’s going to be. They have the whole thing designed and blueprinted out before they even nail the first board up. The gardeners dig a hole, drop in a seed and water it. They kind of know what seed it is, they know if planted a fantasy seed or mystery seed or whatever. But as the plant comes up and they water it, they don’t know how many branches it’s going to have, they find out as it grows. And I’m much more a gardener than an architect.
One major advantage architects have is they know where the story is going, and gardeners don’t. I’m an architect. I plan out my story from start to finish. I have my inciting incident, my twists and turns, my big fat middle, and the exciting climax. In theory, it means I just need to stick to the plan. But that’s how I, as an architect, get into trouble. At some point, I lose interest in the story. And if I’m losing interest as a writer, then I know the reader will be losing interest as well.
So I become a gardener. I throw out my blueprints, and I start asking myself questions. Not small questions, either. Plot-shattering questions. Evil questions. Questions like:
- What if I killed off a main character?
- What if the bad guy wins in this particular scenario?
- What is the thing my main character is hanging on to the most, and how can I take that away from him/her?
- What is the worst possible thing that could happen at this moment?
And then I do it. Now, granted, I think through the repercussions of my answers first, and weigh them against what I’m trying to accomplish in the story, because there’s nothing worse than writing 10,000 or 15,000 words only to realize that I have to delete it all. So there is a bit of planning that still needs to be done, but being outrageous makes the story interesting again. It makes it compelling. Nobody likes reading a story about characters who are happy. We want our characters to be happy, but as soon as they are, they cease to be interesting.
So make them miserable, you evil puppetmaster, you. And then the story will be fun again, and you’ll want to keep writing it. Problem solved!
Trick 2: Planning (for gardeners): “I have no idea what happens next”
Yeah, this is a pickle. Sometimes coming up with a plot is hard, y’all. On the one hand, you can expand the advice I’ve given in a previous entry, (“Help, my scene sucks, and I don’t know why“), which is basically summed up to:
- Your character wants something. Bad.
- Your character has to move mountains to get it. The more effort s/he puts in trying to accomplish his/her goals, the harder it is to attain them.
So that ties a bit into the advice I gave in the previous section (just figure out what your character wants most and take it away from him/her), but that’s not the whole story.
I’m sorry to say, but gardeners, you’re gonna have to start planning.
Yes, yes, cue the gasps of shock and outrage and pearl-clutching.
But here’s the thing – gardeners actually do plan. Growing up, my parents had a vegetable patch in their back yard, and wild growth in their front yard. Wild growth sounds like it should be just letting whatever randomly grows grow, but that’s not really true.
They still had to pick the types of flowers they hoped to see grow. They had to pick certain types of vegetables. They still had to arrange the soil, lay out the vegetable seeds, put up chicken wire, water the plants, weed the garden, and so on. Sure, they had no idea what the final result looked like, but they planned.
And that’s what you need to do. If you’re stuck in your novel, you’ve probably progressed far enough to start planning for an ending. Think about what that’s going to look like. What’s your big, badass climax? What’s the ultimate resolution? Who lives, who dies? You don’t have to get into architect-level detail (though honestly, it helps), but you need to have some idea of where you’re going in order to get there.
Once you have that, then write towards it.
Trick 3: Preparation
We all hit this point in most of our books, where we have a major hump to get over. Plan for it. Know it’s coming. Know what your weak spots are, and anticipate tricks and tools to get yourself over that hump. Is the middle part of your book giving you shivers of dread? This usually happens if you have a banging idea for a beginning and a great climax, and not much in between.
So come up with something epic for the middle. Something as awesome as the climax. Obviously, it can’t be triumphant – it has to be a gut punch for our hero and the reader. But relish in that. Devise newer and crueler ways of making your hero suffer. Make it grand, theatrical, whatever, as long as it gets you excited.
Presto. Problem solved. You have your kickass beginning, your kickass middle, and kickass ending, all things to look forward to. Apply that logic to whichever problem it is that makes you not want to write anymore.
Trick 4: Passion – “I just don’t care about this book anymore”
Yeah. This a toughie. This requires introspection. If you’re at this point, you’ve already asked yourself why you don’t care anymore, and you may not know. If you don’t, then think about what excited you about this story in the first place.
Why did you even want to write this book? Was it a certain scene? Character? Premise? Concept? Theme?
Get back to your roots, and once you’ve figured out why you came up with the idea in the first place, retrace your steps. Where did the book start to deflate for you? If you can identify that, then you will probably identify where things started to go wrong. For example, if all you had was a single scene, then you probably needed to flesh out things more. If you had a theme, you probably didn’t think about coming up with a compelling enough character. And so on. Either way, knowing why you stopped caring will inevitably lead you into the solution for caring again, whatever that will look like.
Trick 5: Passion – “I have another idea I really love and want to focus on that!”
Write down whatever ideas you have for that other project. Don’t start writing the new book, mind you. Just whatever ideas you have. Characters, concepts, scene outlines. Let yourself stray for a few days or a week. Once the fever passes, put those ideas away in a safe space, and forget about them. Finish your current book first, and then you can go back to those feverish ideas.
If you don’t finish your current book, you’ll descend into a guilt spiral of not finishing it, and you will almost inevitably have learned nothing about finishing books. At some point in your new passion project, you’ll lose interest in it and come up with yet another idea, and here we go again.
There’s a lot to be learned by finishing a book, and at some point, you’re going to have to learn how. Think of it as preparation for that passion project – by finishing this book, you’ll be able to make your passion project that much stronger with the knowledge you’ve gleaned by writing a complete book. Then you’ll truly be doing justice to the book you supposedly really care about.
And besides, you’d be surprised at how much you’ll want to change once you revisit those ideas you’ve set aside. What seemed awesome during that fever dream might turn out to be pretty pathetic. So, finish the current book first, and your passion project will be much better as a result.
Trick 6: Self-doubt – “My writing sucks”
Another reason why people give up is because they think their writing sucks. There’s only one remedy for that: keep writing.
Seriously. Just keep writing. You can’t get better if you don’t do it. Roger Federer didn’t spring from the womb a perfect tennis player. He practiced a hell of a lot to get to where he is.
Besides, a dirty secret in the writing world is first drafts are supposed to be atrocious. If you saw a pro writer’s first draft, you’d probably be shocked at how bad some of them turn out to be. You’re not alone. Editing is your friend.
Trick 7: Motivation – “Do I really have to?”
I get it. Sometimes writing feels like a chore. And the answer is, of course not, you don’t have to finish it.
But then you won’t have a book.
What would you rather have, the peace of mind that comes from not needing to write every day (and you should write, or try to write, every day)… or a finished book? A published book?
Whichever you care about more, go pursue it. If it’s the former, then way to go, you got your life back. Don’t feel bad about it – being happy is hard enough as is, and if not writing makes you happier, then congratulations. Seriously.
If you really do want to have a book, then you need to regain your mojo. The single best way of doing that is by clearing your head before sitting down to write. Take some time to do that before you start writing. Don’t watch any TV, don’t play video games, don’t read another book. Put away your damn phone.
Do something mind-numbing. Go for a walk. Clean your kitchen floor. Work on a jigsaw puzzle. Exercise. Yoga. Something that allows your mind to wander, something that doesn’t require too much concentration. The more boring, the better. Give your body something to do.
My way of clearing my head is going for bike rides.
Do it for at least 30 minutes or so, or however long you need. Once you’re done, you’ll feel refreshed mentally, and hopefully, your mind wandered on to the story you’re supposed to be writing, and you’ll be ready to get some stuff done.
Now, go finish your damn book.