The craft and business of writing and self publishing

Milestone or millstone, your choice – part 3: tips for actually completing your first novel from pros

Recently several of our authors shared what they did to complete that all–important first book and what advice they have for the rest of us, their would-be co-finishers.

Published many times over, authors Michelle Leighton Barbara Freethy Hugh Howey Alison BrennanPhyllis Smallman, and Olivia Cunning are as different as

historical fiction and future fantasy. But they all share one important feature: there was a time when they hadn’t completed a single book.

This is their hard-won advice.

Take it a step at a time.

Hugh Howey: Write because you love it. Don’t feel the pressure of the entire process, just soak in the moment. Dive into your character’s head; live in their world; feel their struggle. And just write. The words will pile up. If you do this every day for an hour a day, you’ll have a novel before you know it. A rough draft, sure, but it’s much easier to dress the bones than it is to gather them in the first place.

Once you complete your first manuscript, I promise you’ll be addicted. It’s a high like no other. And once you know you can do it, the next one comes easier. So take it from me right now: You can do it. If I can, anyone can. Know this about yourself, that the baby steps will culminate in something wonderful, and start that journey. Set aside the time and develop a habit. You’ll shock yourself, I promise.

Hugh writes fantasy. Read his work here.

Don’t be afraid to succeed.

Barbara Freethy: Every author has strengths and weaknesses. There will always be things you’ll feel you could have done better. Books can be rewritten forever, but at some point, you have to end the story and move on to the next one. Fear of being done, of having to face readers, of even attaining success often paralyzes writers. Authors are afraid that they only have one book in them and so they never finish that one book. But almost every writer I know has lots of stories in their head. So embrace the challenge of finishing so that you have the excitement of starting another book. Finishing a novel is a tremendous achievement and produces an incredible sense of satisfaction. Don’t miss out on such a wonderful moment by not making it to the end!

Barbara is a romance writer. Here are the finished products.

No more excuses. Just. Do. It.

Alison Brennan: If you are committed to writing, you’ll find the time to write. You have to want it and, first and foremost, write for YOU. You have to love what you’re doing. Then find a system that works and stick to it. Maybe it’s writing every morning, or every night, or because you have a full-time, demanding job you can only write on the weekends. Whatever it is, set a schedule and stick to it. “Muse” is a bitch—don’t count on her to help. You have to create your own inspiration. It’s not easy. But the reward—finishing a book—is worth it.

Alison writes crime fiction, mysteries, romantic suspense and more. Here is some of her finished work.

It won’t be this hard the next time.

Phyllis Smallman: It’s a leap of faith to begin a novel, a perilous journey through the land of self-doubt and hardscrabble, and writing each new book is as difficult and uncertain as the first was.  After seven books, I’ve learned that I would write even if I never published another book. Write for the joy of it and not to have your name on a book. If someone reads it and likes it, that’s a bonus, but it’s the doing that’s important.

Phyllis is a mystery writer. Here is her finished work.

Keep writing, even if you don’t keep writing this one.

Olivia Cunning: I have dozens of unfinished manuscripts, so I’m not the best person to offer advice on finishing. Some books start as great ideas but fizzle out. I suppose you could spend years trying to bash one manuscript into submission and force yourself to finish it, but honestly, if a book is that big of a headache to write, I just move on to something I enjoy writing. I find if I’m not enjoying the writing, I can’t expect readers to enjoy what they’re reading. I wrote about half of my latest release, Take Me, and decided I hated the heroine so deleted the entire thing and started over. Don’t be afraid to throw away words if they aren’t working. Also, my self-published series is a serial series, so it might never end. At least until I’m not having fun writing the books anymore, then I’ll have to give the series final closure and move on to something new. I have writer’s ADD.

Olivia writes erotic romance. Here are some of her finished books.

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