Top 10 Tips for Finishing Your Novel

April 05, 2022 6 min read

1 Comment

By Author Abigail Geiger

Should I tell you a secret?

Finishing novels gets easier.

Crazy, right? Many established authors and experienced writers will try to tell you differently, but that’s because they’ve forgotten that first project. The one that they slogged through, that never had an end in sight, that had them questioning their ability to even finish this ridiculous monstrosity, because, obviously, they’d never done it before.

Finishing novels gets easier.

Honestly? Even finishing that second novel is easier. Once you’ve got one under your belt, suddenly you have a misplaced, wildly disproportionate confidence in yourself. You’ve tackled 90,000 words before. Who’s to say you can’t do it again?

Every story is different, every book needs another approach, but the courage and tenacity to finish a project is a skill that is strengthened with practice. For those of you who are struggling with that first win—or who need a boost to continue after years of finishing projects—here are my top ten tips for finishing your novel.

1) Consistency, Consistency

Writing 10,000 words in one coffee-induced, adrenaline-pumped, burn-through-or-die session is great. Writing 1,000 words a day with a consistent routine is better.

10,000 words won’t finish your book for you, especially if you burn yourself out and don’t write again for six months. Books are finished through consistent, focused effort—although the burn sessions do feel more exciting.

2) Stay Focused

New ideas are the number one killer of novels. One minute you’re slogging your way through the ‘messy middle,’ the next you’re chasing after a shiny new idea with cooperative characters, no major plot holes, and a world that doesn’t make you want to bang your head against the desk until you pass out.

I’ll let you in on a secret though.

That shiny new idea will have plot holes. And a messy middle. And stubborn, bull-headed characters that refuse to be anything but flat and uninteresting.

Every story has its problems, and working through the next idea will be just as frustrating as this one. Quitting in the middle because of plot holes becomes a habit that you will find hard to break later on.

3) Know Your Route

Where is this story taking you? Do you have an end in mind? Do you know what your mid-point is? Where the third act starts?

I am not a huge fan of outlining in the first draft—usually I like to see where the story takes me and work on structure later—but there are four things I always like to know before I leap into actually writing.

The beginning, the event that marks the first quarter, the event that marks the midpoint, the third quarter, and the climax. Where we start the story, what happens as a result of that, and how it ends.

4) Hold Tight to the Vision

When I first started—seriously —writing, I knew one thing for certain. I was going to be the best of the best. I wasn’t going to just be a writer. I was going to be one of thewriters. I was going to be so good that nobody could ignore me.

Was it completely arrogant and farfetched to think I could make it that far?

Probably.

Did it give me a vision that kept me writing, which eventually landed me a job in the industry?

Want advanced tips for boosting creative confidence, reducing distractions, and overcoming writer's block? Book a 1-on-1 consultation with Writing Coach Lyndsay Carder.

Absolutely.

Have a vision. Know where you want to go, why you want to go there, and what’s waiting at the end for you.

Without a real purpose, it’s far too easy to justify not bothering with your story this week, or this month, or this year. 

5) Have Goals

Word count goals. Chapter goals. Page goals. Time goals. Something that will result in you reaching a milestone and getting a little rush of endorphins. Something that reminds you that this book is not endless, you are making progress, and the end will come.

Eventually.

Writing a book is a bit like climbing a mountain. (Which I can say from experience, because I have climbed a total of two actual real life mountains and am obviously an expert.) If you only focus on the end result, it becomes overwhelming. Sometimes, you need a few wins along the way.

6) Know Your Limits

This is an important one, and one I’ve only recently begun to acknowledge. I can write 4,000 plus words in a day if I really, really push. Maybe even 5,000.

But, the next day—and probably the day after too—I will be fried. I will get very little—or nothing—done. I have used up my creative energy and pushed myself past the place where I was able to recover easily.

However, if I write 1,500 to 3,000 words, it becomes a rhythm. I can do it five days a week, and they’ll probably be significantly better words than if I forced myself over my limit.

Sprinting is all very well. But if you’re writing a book, you’re in for the long haul. You’ve signed up for the marathon, and you need to pace yourself. Know your limits and stick to them.

7) Vet Your Story

This is a ‘before-you-start’ kind of tip, but I think it’s worth mentioning anyway. Not every story is a novel. Not every idea is worth writing. Generally, I like my stories to simmer in the back of my mind for a good long time before I write them, although I have been persuaded otherwise a time or two.

I always pay for it with mountains of revisions.

Typically, before you start, it's smart to take a few minutes to vet your idea to make sure it has the staying power to make it to a full novel.

Do you have a protagonist? Is there a conflict that can’t be resolved with a simple conversation or a few pages of strongly worded reprimands? Does your protagonist have a driving need, something that will get them through two hundred plus pages of action and dialogue?

Do you have a world you actually like and want to write in? Do you have a climax? An antagonist? A problem to solve?

If you take the time to answer these questions before you start, you may head off a few of the duds that will wind up tucked in a drawer somewhere, never again to see the light of day.

8) Enjoy the Process

I have to remind myself of this particular tip every time I sit down with a new story. Don’t write to finish. Write to enjoy. You’ve got a long road ahead of you, and if you only care about the last chapter, you’ll never reach it.

9) Let it be Bad

Let it be the most terrible, awful, tumbled-over mess of wooden, uninteresting words that you have ever written or read in your entire life. Let it be full of cliches and stilted dialogue and plot holes and characters that are basically just paper dolls with fancy hats.

It only needs to be written.

A full novel with 90,000 horrible, awkward words will teach you so much more than one chapter filled with elegant prose, a dynamic character, and perfect metaphors. Quit tweaking that first sentence and write the next chapter.

You can rewrite later.

I promise.

10) Be Patient

Writing a novel takes a long time. Building a career as a writer takes even longer. It takes persistence and patience and the ability to be the most bull-headed kind of person that you can imagine.

I like to tell people that my best trait as a writer is my obsessive stubbornness. It takes an enormous amount of effort to convince me to walk away from a project, because if I started it, by golly, I am going to finish it.

Again, writing a novel takes a long time. It’s not a get-rich-quick scheme, or a 30 day challenge—although a few people will probably be annoyed with me for saying so—or a quick weekend project.

It’s a long, slow discovery. An adventure, with time to hone your craft as a writer and time to explore your world as a creator.

Don’t rush it. Settle in with some tea, light a candle, and let the journey from the first page to the last shape who you are as a writer.

Want advanced tips for boosting creative confidence, reducing distractions, and overcoming writer's block? Book a 1-on-1 consultation with Writing Coach Lyndsay Carder.

1 Response

VJ Hamilton
VJ Hamilton

May 09, 2022

“New ideas are the number one killer of novels.” So true!

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