You’re close to the end; you’re finally about to finish writing your book. You can almost taste it. And then…Something weird happens. Maybe not to everyone… but to most people.
You slow down.
Your writing pace slows down. You get writers’ block. You endlessly tweak chapters that are done.
There’s a reason for that: You’re scared.
- What if I publish my book and it sucks?
- What if people hate it?
- What if no one buys it?
- What if I find mistakes in it? (You will find mistakes in it.)
All sorts of scary dragons pop up and start chasing you as you come down to the finish line. If you’re a perfectionist, it’s even worse.
Because a book is never perfect. Here’s the good news (and the bad news):
A Book is Never Finished
There are always tweaks you can make. Characters you can add. Points you forgot to include. There are new developments, changes in the way things are done, new things to do and new ways to do old things. You’ve written the definitive biography of someone when lo and behold, a cache of letters is found in an attic that reveals a secret life, heretofore unsuspected. You write a how-to for marketing and a new amazing platform opens up that is a total game-changer. You quoted someone in your book and now they are front page news in a very bad way.
Life is constant change.
In the past, when a book was published, that was pretty much it. It was basically a photograph of how things were at that moment in time. There’s a reason why classics are classics. It’s because they describe times that are past and, for the most part, no longer changing. This is what people thought then.
With print on demand technology, you can update your books if you choose to do so. That opens up a whole new problem or situation, if you will. Should you update your books? How often? Do you leave them as is because the information was correct when you initially published it? Is there enough of a difference to warrant updating the book?
But that’s a little cart before the horse for this post.
A Quick Note
If you’re in the midst of writing multiple books: Welcome to my world. You are my people. But you would probably prefer to have the books done than to hang out in writing purgatory. Here’s what I suggest:
Go through all the books you are currently working on and evaluate how far along in the process they are.
- Which one is closest to done?
- Which one is easiest to finish? I.e., does one need research that involves in-person access to a library in another part of the country as opposed to one you can finish mostly from the top of your head and some online Googling? Or does one book simply appeal to you more than the others?
- Does one need to be finished before the others or is one more urgent for some reason?
Weigh these three factors, then choose one book to work on. One. Book.
Powering Through: How to Finish Writing Your Book
First, tell your inner critic to shut up. That voice in your head is not helping and at this point isn’t even correct because it is criticizing something that hasn’t happened yet. There will be plenty of time to criticize after you’re done. Tell it to hold its horses. Need a little inspiration? Here are 21 Uplifting Quotes to silence those negative thoughts.
Next, go through what you have so far. No matter how much or how little, organize it into your book. Put your Table of Contents in, put a chapter heading at the start of each topic, insert any graphics you have, add page numbers. This will help you visualize your manuscript as the completed book.
Map out exactly what you need to do to finish your book. Your Table of Contents is really your outline, so work off that. List off the chapters that need something added, chapters that need to be completely written, any images, charts, or graphs you may need, etc. That’s your to-do list so make it as specific as possible.
Quick Tip: I like to highlight little bits that will need changes in the final manuscript as I’m working. For example, I might say “More about this in Chapter XX” and highlight that in bright yellow. It keeps me from interrupting whatever flow I have going. When I finally figure out what chapter that information will be in, I go back, add the chapter number, and delete the highlighting. I also highlight any notes to myself like, “Add more here.” You can also use the comments tool in the Review tab of Word for this.
If you want to get granular, you can estimate how much time each task will take you to complete. If you have a spare hour and have something on your list that you’ve estimated will take you forty-five minutes, that’s a good fit. I don’t know about you, but I am a time optimist—I always think I can do things more quickly than I actually can.
The key to how to finish writing your book can be a why.
Set either a firm deadline or a set number of hours per week that you will work on your book. When I was a ghostwriter, I had hard deadlines built into my contracts with clients. Writing for myself, those deadlines get squishy and tend to get moved. You have to be a hard-ass with yourself.
One way I stay on track is to remind myself WHY I want to get the book finished. If you know me at all, you know I hate the idea of having a BIG WHY in my life. I’m just a jaded and cynical curmudgeon who doesn’t get all touchy-feely about stuff. But that’s me. It doesn’t mean that having a Big Why doesn’t work—it does. My Big Why usually looks like: “I want to finish this damn book so I can finally get it off my plate and get to this new, soon-to-be-damn book that I will eventually want to get off my plate.”
Some people’s Big Why is “I need to have this book finished by X-DATE so I can sell it at the seminar I’m speaking at in three months” or “I need to have this book finished by X-DATE because it will answer questions that my current clients have and will cut down on the time I have to spend going through basic material with them. It will make room for deeper work.”
If you’re not sure how much time finishing your book will take you, set a weekly hourly quota. You might not be able to work on your book every day, so you could set aside a larger chunk of time when you have it available. I discuss how to make time to write your book in the first video of my three part video series, You Can Write Your Book.
When you do sit down to work, you need to make sure you’re actually working, not dubbing around. That’s where that to-do list you made saves the day. Know what you’re going to do when you sit down to write. If you have a researching session set up, make sure you can access the information you need. If you are writing a chapter and you decide you need a chart or graphic, jot that down on your to-do list and keep writing that chapter. Get that done before you jump to the next thing. Something new is always much more interesting to us than the (ugh) work that is in front of us. The truth is the new thing will also be (ugh) work when we get to it.
I hesitate to even suggest this but if you’re not a first-time author, if you already have a following, and if you’re very brave, you can put your book for sale on pre-order (eBook only). Amazon allows a full year to have your book on pre-order but that will not push you to finish your book. Calculate how much time it will take you to complete your book, then double it. If you think you can finish your book in two months, set your publishing date four months out. Stuff happens. If you can’t complete your book in time, Amazon allows you to extend the date, but they only allow that once. If you miss your publication date, you can’t use Amazon’s pre-order feature for a year. From a marketing standpoint, you are actually better off with a shorter pre-order period, so use this idea wisely.
The Final Step: Butt-In-Chair
This is where the rubber meets the road or as it’s often called: Bum Glue. (Not to be confused with butt glue which beauty contestants use. Don’t ask.) All of the above makes it easier for your butt to stick to the chair. There’s no way of getting around the actual time spent writing. I know; I’ve tried.
That’s why I like having the to-do list. I am one of those people who derives a lot of satisfaction from crossing things off a list. I can physically see my progress. And that is enough to keep me going. You might set up a series of small rewards to help keep you motivated, whether it is buying yourself a little gift, especially one that is writing related, giving yourself a trip to a nearby park or a quick getaway, or just giving yourself permission to watch a favorite movie when your work is done. Rewards help.
Celebrate Your Accomplishment
You should also plan a celebration when you finish your writing. Some people have a celebratory drink (alcoholic or non). I am partial to ice cream but have been known to crack open a bottle of champagne. You might take your significant other out for a fancy dinner. Whatever makes you happy. But finishing a book is a BIG DEAL. Nine out of ten people who start writing a book don’t finish. You need to celebrate that accomplishment. And let me know, too. I’m happy to celebrate with you!