(Or: actually completing your first book)
“I know I have this book in me. If I could only…” Find the time, get down to it, organize myself, and so on. The excuses are as numerous as the numbers of unwritten books out there.
We asked several of our authors what they did to complete that first book. Published many times over, authors Michelle Leighton, Barbara Freethy, Hugh Howey, Alison Brennan, and Phyllis Smallman, and Olivia Cunning are as different as romance and sci-fi fantasy. But they all share one important feature: there was a time when they hadn’t completed a single book.
Here are their answers, unadulterated but for the odd spelling or punctuation correction. (Hey they’re authors, not editors!)
Tip 1: Write something – anything – every single day.
Michelle Leighton: I worked on it every single day until it was finished. Even if it was to type only a few words or jot down some notes on a piece of paper, I thought about it and worked toward completing it in some way every day. And, for the most part, I do that even to this day. I might not actually type every day, or even make notes, but I think about my story several times throughout each day, regardless. I think of the characters and what they’re like. I think of the plot and where it might be going. I think of some interesting dialogue I’d like to add and where it might go. To me, a book is almost like a living thing. Like a friend. I pay it some attention every day so that it doesn’t become a neglected stranger. I hold it close until I type those last words. And usually, like a friend, they stick with me long past the end.
Michelle writes romance, and paranormal romance. Check it out!
Tip 2: Get the help of an avid reader.
Hugh Howey: I know what it’s like to finish a book and not see it to completion. I did that for almost twenty years, on and off. I started dozens of books and soon abandoned them. Two things helped me see that first manuscript to completion. First, I developed a habit of writing every day without the pressure of finishing a novel. In my case, it was as a book reviewer for a major website. But blogging every day, writing in a journal, or working on short stories are other ways to develop this routine. Writing needs to be a habit in order to be successful. It can’t be something you pick up and set down now and then. It has to be daily, even if it’s only for half an hour.
The second thing I did was invite my wife into the process. Every day, I gave her pages to read. Her insistence to know what happened next drove me to make up what happened next! You could also publish your rough draft online as you write it if you need encouragement. I still post sample chapters as I write my work in progress. I find the feedback and support from my readership motivates me to write more and write well. It’s easy to get frustrated if you tackle this all on your own.
Hugh writes fantasy. Read his work here!
Tip 3: Have faith in your story, and writer through the doubt.
Barbara Freethy: Keep writing! There comes a point in every novel where the writer becomes plagued with doubts about the story, the characters, the plot, the tone, everything! But you have to write through those days. You have to keep the faith in the story and know that you will have plenty of opportunities to make changes and rewrite once you finish the book.
Barbara is a romance writer. Here are the finished products.
Tip 4: Make a commitment to yourself to finish. And then finish.
Alison Brennan: Like many writers, I had many beginnings and no endings. In fact, I started well over 100 books and never finished any of them until after I turned 30. I had a career, a husband, and kids and it seemed that ever new idea was better than the last, so I dumped whatever project I was working on and started something new.
I had to make the commitment to finish one of the many books I’d started. It’s not something that anyone can make you do–honestly, no one cares if you get published except YOU. So I had to be at the right place mentally to make a personal commitment to finish a book. Once I typed “THE END,” I knew I could do it again. And again.
Because I had a full-time job and young kids (when I started seriously writing I had three; I now have five) I had to set aside time every day to write. I wrote every night after the kids went to bed. Every night. I gave up television for three years. (I love television; this was a big sacrifice!) I wrote from 9 pm to midnight six days a week. That was the only way I could finish one book and start another. It worked. In two years I had completed five books full-length novels. I sold my fifth book to Ballantine.
Alison writes crime fiction, mysteries, romantic suspense and more. Here is some of her finished work.
Tip 5: Sit down and write. There’s no getting around that.
Phyllis Smallman: The most important components in taking a book from idea to a finished product is desire and persistence. Talent is worth nothing if you don’t begin and only determination will take you from the beginning to the end. Intelligence and ability abound but it is the person who sits down and actually writes who will succeed.
Phyllis is a mystery writer. Here is her finished work.
Tip 6: Treat writing as if it were your job. Do it every day.
Olivia Cunning: I treated writing as my job. Butt in chair. Fingers on keyboard. Dazed and confused look on my face. Lots of clock checking. I also had my eyes on the prize. Publication. That first completed book is locked in a drawer somewhere. I was 19 when I wrote it. It was atrocious. But I finished it. I’ve since finished writing books that are actually good. Go, me!
Olivia writes erotic romance. Here are some of her finished books.
Also important I think, maybe not stressed enough, is not being afraid to fail. Artists and writers take many years to develop their craft. It doesn’t matter if your first novel is terrible, because you’ll learn from it, and if you follow the advice of these writers and work every day, there will be more to come and that first failure won’t matter.