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{Writing Life} The 5 Things You Need to Know to Finish Your Book

How to finish your book with advice from Secret Library Podcast guests

For close to two years, I’ve been interviewing authors every week for the Secret Library Podcast about the process of writing and publishing books. As we approach episode 100, I’ve been reflecting on the immense volume of advice and input that has come through the show. Themes have emerged and, when it comes down to it, many authors have similar things to say about what it takes to finish a book.

It is my greatest hope that this show inspires people to write. Whenever I get a response to the newsletter that says someone kept writing because of something they heard on the show, it makes me whole day- maybe even my whole month. Take these notes about writing to heart. It is possible for you to finish your book. Please keep going, with the following in mind:

1. Every book is different. Even if you’ve written many books, each one poses its own challenges. Don’t get stuck trying to find “one method that rules them all” that will work with every book you ever write from now on. And even if you do find that method, you’ll still get stuck. (V.E. Schwab was particularly eloquent on this last point.) As reassuring as hearing about other people’s routines is, the only one that matters is the one that works for you.

2. Finishing a book is doable, and happens all the time. One of my favorite comments from the show came from Scott Carney, who said “If you’re intimidated by writing a book, you’re probably looking at writing a book wrong.” He breaks his writing down into 500 words a day, no more and no less, and continues until he has a first draft. This may seem to contradict #1, but the benefit I have felt from talking to this many published authors is having it beaten into me that people finish books every day. If you keep writing, it will happen. Giving up is the only thing that will stop you from ending up with a finished manuscript.

3. Don’t force the process. This is particularly important with Fiction, but can come up with other forms of writing as well. If you feel like you’re having to squeeze it out of your brain, it’s not going to be fun to write or for anyone to read. I go back to an early episode with Sarah Selecky all the time, who talked about writing as a kind of magical transcription. If you sit in a place of curiosity and take notes from that place, the story will come. Keep showing up on your schedule, and be open to magic. This episode will change the way you think about writing fiction, and is such a relief. If you feel like you have to white knuckle your story onto the page, this conversation will set you free.

4. You’re in charge. So many people feel scared of the responsibility of writing a book, but a flip that many authors have reminded us of is this: where else do you get to be completely in charge of everything that happens in the whole world? Perhaps the tyranny of choice is a bit scary, but an alternative is to enjoy this experience. Frustrated at your job? Wish you had more say in some aspects of your life? Relish the fact that every single thing that happens in your book is up to you. Fall in love with the world you are writing about and immerse yourself. (J. Ryan Stradaal will share how smitten you can become with your world and how to keep going when research is too enticing)

5. Above all, know why you want to write THIS book. So many of us dream of writing books. I have since I was little. And each book that sits on a shelf somewhere started out as a “what if…?” for its author. To take it all the way to the final moment, the reason you’re writing it has to feel important to you. It doesn’t matter how much this book would mean to anyone else when you’re writing it. You will spend more time with this book than anyone else will, even if they read it numerous times. Find out why you HAVE to write this down and it will get done. Look to Natashia Deón’s drive to write while waiting at court for her job as inspiration, and Lisa Cron’s exploration of finding your why for support.)

Remember that you can do this, and that your writing matters. Speaking to writer after writer, each one tells me they get scared or blocked or worried that their book is total crap, but then they keep going and finish it anyway. And I am inspired by each one of them who keeps sitting down and doing the work. It’s hard to talk yourself into writing sometimes, but please remember that the end result is worth it. Your story is worth it.

Thank you for being brave and for continuing. More stories told makes a better world for all of us.

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