Finish That Book: Or How to Get the Job Done

- by J.C. Wilder

If you were to look at the writing directory on my hard drive, you would think, “My, what a prolific author.” In reality, I’m not. Like many writers, I have a serious completion problem. But when it comes to prolific beginnings, no one can beat me in a writing race.

But how do I finish the job?

I’d been writing seriously for almost ten years before I discovered an answer to this question. And every time I think of that answer, I kick myself for not figuring it out sooner.

I’m not going to tell you to write a letter to your characters or write out a detailed synopsis or plot from beginning to end because it never worked for me. If it works for you, more power to you. But if you’re looking for a sure-fire way of finishing your book, this just might be the method for you.

When you begin writing a book, hopefully you have some inkling of how that book will end. If you don’t have an idea then will need to figure this out fast. What I did with my last book, I wrote the first third of the book with no idea what was going on. It was a quick and dirty job, a write-it-and-get-it-on-paper session. Once I completed those pages, I went back to work out a loose outline and the format that I used was as follows:

SCENE (number)
DATE & TIME
LOCATION
PARTICPANTS
PURPOSE OF THE SCENE or WHAT WILL BE CONVEYED TO THE READER

Rather than doing a chapter by chapter outline, I did mine scene by scene. I find that chapter outlines can be too bulky and the possibility of leaving loose ends is much greater. In a single chapter you can have multiple scenes and it’s much easier for important points to get overlooked. Scene by scene outlines worked better for me because I’m less likely to write a superfluous scene and I can scan the outline quickly to see what I need to tie up in the ending.

Once I have my outline done, I then completely re-write the beginning of the book. Let’s face it, in most cases you’re going to toss the first 30 pages out anyway. Very few writers know their characters intimately from the first page and it takes that rough draft of 30 pages to figure out their motivations so their actions ring true with the reader. Don’t cry over those lost pages as some of it will still be useful to you so consider it good practice.

Once I had my rewritten beginning, it was now time to tackle the rest of the book. Using the outline and my intimate knowledge of my character motivations, I did a rough sketch of the rest of the book. Keep in mind that this outline is NOT written in stone. Your outline should be able to flow in harmony with what you’re writing, not to be used as a whip to keep those pesky characters in line.

Once I had my outline, I wrote the middle of the book. I spit it out on paper, first draft and no second-guessing. I didn’t edit, go back and “fix”; I just spit it out.

I’ve run into beginning writers who say that they can’t go on until their work is “perfected” and “polished”. I’ve got news for you, you’ll never finish a book this way. The only way to finish a book is apply your backside to your chair, open up your word processing program and write it. That doesn’t mean fussing for hours over the perfect way of wording, “Stephanie sat down in the armchair.”

Sit her backside in the chair and move on. Period.

Now that I had my middle done, I then went back and edited it. I could see in an instant where I went wrong and where I was right on the mark. I then checked my outline and updated it. Had I missed any important plot points? Do you have a scene that doesn’t advance the plot but it was fun to write? Time to remove it. I know, it hurts, but if a scene doesn’t advance the plot then it has no business being in your manuscript. As an author it does pay to be ruthless with your work.

Now that I had the first two-thirds of the book complete, now comes the ending. I sat down with my outline and plotted the ending and I checked to see if the following applied:

Were all of the loose ends tied up?
Is it a logical ending?
Is it a satisfying ending?
Did I take the easy way out?

Once I had the outline done, I repeated the steps from above. I sat down and spit it out on paper and I didn’t second-guess myself and I went for it.

I completed the novel in about eleven weeks.

The bottom line is that you have to have the burning desire to hold your finished book in your hands and to make the sacrifices required to write and sell a novel. Do you think that Stephen King can spend his time watching television and only writing for a few hours a week?

No.

He, like any other serious author, sits in front of his computer and writes, and writes, and writes. There comes a time when you have to quit making excuses and just throw yourself into it. You also have to love the story you are trying to tell and the characters who live it. Know their foibles and motivation so you can portray their lives, loves and emotions and not shortchange them by leaving them in a closet because you can’t finish the book.

What are you waiting for? Now, go finish that book.

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