If you’re reading this, you’ve probably found yourself in a situation where you’re struggling to complete your work in progress. Perhaps you’ve lost inspiration, you’re suffering from writer’s block, or you’ve just become bored with it.
I often get asked for tips on how to ensure you don’t get caught up in a cycle of starting a new story only to abandon it after a few chapters. Here’s what I’d suggest:
We all get struck by ideas that excite us, and we can’t wait to put pen to paper—or fingers to keyboard—to begin the exhilarating journey of bringing those ideas to life. Then, the excitement dies down, or we get struck by another idea that we want to explore instead, so the story gets shelved. Rather than rushing into writing a story, take time to plan it out first. Make sure you’ve got the very basics of a beginning, middle and end—or at least something that will give you the confidence that your story has enough substance to keep you interested.
2. Set goals
Every writer will have had days where they just can’t be bothered. They’re too tired, the inspiration isn’t there or they’ve got too many other things to get through that day. Once this becomes a recurring issue, though, you need to make sure you’re not falling out of the habit of writing—and falling out of love with your story. It’s unrealistic to expect to feel that same level of initial excitement with every word you type, and some days you will have to conquer your disinterest by forcing yourself to write. Set a goal of 500 words a day, or 1000 words a day. It doesn’t matter if you have to edit it a hundred times afterwards—just get the words on the page and worry about the quality later.
3. Quantity not quality
Don’t fuss over the quality of your story for a first draft—just get it written. You can edit later and change all the parts you’re not sure about. When it comes to those, it’s much easier to edit later than spend time re-writing until you’re happy enough to move on. Tell your story and worry about how it’s told afterwards.
4. Reignite the passion
Chances are that when you first started thinking about your story idea, there were certain scenes you pictured in your head. Chances also are that those scenes weren’t right at the beginning of story. If you’re struggling to progress, try writing out those scenes to remind yourself exactly why you’re excited about your story. It might also help you with the chapters leading up to it by giving you a fresh burst of inspiration.
5. Delayed gratification
Take the tip above, but flip it on its head. Rather than writing out those scenes early, don’t allow yourself to visit them until you’ve got all the preceding chapters done. This will give you motivation to get there and keep you interested in the story.
6. Don’t post online
If you’re a member of a writing community where you often share your stories, it’s a good idea to wait until you’ve reached a certain point in your plot before you post online. It’s up to you to decide where that point is, but by waiting, you can focus solely on your story without any other distractions—such as how long it’s been since your last upload, or what that certain reader is going to think about that certain line. When you get a great idea for a plot, it’s tempting to post your first chapter straightaway—you’re excited and you want everyone else to be, too! But if you wait until you’ve got a good chunk written, you’ll be in a better position to decide whether you’re going to continue or if you’re, realistically, likely to stop.
7. Don’t focus on numbers
Only really applicable if you do post online, the most important thing to remember with writing is that you come first. It’s your story. You tell it the way you want to. Don’t let the worth of your work be defined by how many people are reading or commenting online. Write that story because you want to write it. Remember: lots of people won’t even look at a story unless it’s complete, so that’s when your reads will increase the most. You could even use that as motivation to complete it rather than a sign that you should give up.
This works particularly well if you’re writing a sequel, but can also apply for first stories, too. Re-read what you’ve already written, remember how you felt writing those previous chapters, get back inside the heads of the characters—laugh, cry, complain at their decisions—and then attack your next chapter with a newfound sense of purpose, inspiration and commitment.
9. Read other stories
Give your brain a rest from thinking about your own writing and instead relax into a different story from one of your favourite authors. You might come out refreshed, with the desire to revisit your own characters and plot.
10. Don’t compare
It’s easy to fall into the trap of comparing your writing to someone else’s, but it’s important to remember that every writer has a different writing style and level of experience, so you need to be rational. With published books especially, those writers will have had professional editors dissect their work, point out parts that don’t make sense, and correct all their grammatical errors. Nobody is perfect and each book has a different target audience, anyway.
11. Give your characters lives
Finally, your characters deserve to have their stories told. Don’t leave them in limbo. Tell their story and let them live their lives.
Do you have any tips that help you finish a story? Have any of these helped you? I’d love to hear about it — leave a comment below!
There is also a post about tips for new writers, which you can read here, that may also be helpful.