How Do I Finish My Book?

The thing I hear writers lament about the most is their inability to finish whatever project they’re working on. When asked I always suggest two things: the first is to treat it like a job (because it is) and just keep going, it doesn’t matter if you hate it or if you can’t stand to be around it – just keep going. The second piece of advice – if the first didn’t work – is to throw it away and start something new because if you don’t love your story enough to get through some tough times then it’s not worth writing anyway.

I know that some people’s reactions will be that writing should be fun, if the writer’s not enjoying writing the story then the reader won’t enjoy reading it. This has elements of truth to it but sometimes those good times come in the second draft, sometimes the third. It’s not all patting yourself on the back and marveling at your outstanding turn of phrase (although, I admit, a lot of it is that) sometimes it’s work and sometimes you have to grind out those words until you’re through the quagmire and back onto solid ground.

Others will say that they can’t bring themselves to throw away something they’ve put so much time and effort into. That’s fair but if writing it brings you nothing but misery why bother? I’ve thrown many half-finished manuscripts away that I fell out of love with. The only time I’d suggest struggling on with something you no longer like working on is if it’s your first novel. That’s what I did when I was 21 and had four failed attempts at writing a novel behind me. I looked at my 30,000 word, half-finished book and, like all of my other half-finished books, I was ready to give up and start on something new because I no longer liked the main character, the pacing was all wrong, the love interest was one dimensional and – for a horror story – it wasn’t scary. It had started off so well, fairly original, darkly funny and fast-paced but by page 100 it was losing momentum and by page 150 it was a mess. I dragged the file to the bin and then stopped. I realised that perhaps the reason I couldn’t finish a novel was because I had never finished a novel, (almost paradoxical, I know). So I reopened the file and I wrote twenty-five thousand more words. I wrapped the story up and I had my first finished novel. It was awful and the world will never ever see it, ever. Ever. But it was finished. I had written a novel and I had learned more in those last twenty-five thousand words than I had in the four or five half finished novels I had left behind me.

That book, titled The Angels On The Edge Of Town, was not a good book but the next book I wrote, Rewind, was much better, still not fantastic but good enough that a publisher from a reasonably large UK company wanted to meet me for coffee (just to get to know me because he thought I had potential). My third book got me an agent.

So as much as I know that The Angels On The Edge Of Town is just an awful, terrible book – I’m glad I struggled through to the end. The lessons I learned set me on the path to becoming a better writer.

So, to summarise: Just keep going. Even if the final result is not what you’d hoped for, you’ll undoubtedly learn from the experience.