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How to write and finish a book

We discussed the comprehensive writing process, the editing process and the publishing process, now I thought it would be best to get some practical writing inspiration to help someone move their book to the end. Nobody cares about the book that you almost wrote, so make sure you finish it and publish for all to read. There’s a famous quote that says ‘we don’t get paid for effort but for results.’ Likewise, a writer is recognised with a published project. This could be a book, memoir, essay, poem, newspaper article, you name it. All we want is for you to finish and publish – that’s what can make you confidently refer to yourself as a writer. In order for this discussion to work, we need to agree on that notion.

Picture yourself at a party or a networking event, where people are introducing themselves and you stand up and say, “I’m a writer.” What do you think will be the next question to you? I think for purposes of engagement – something that is key nowadays – people would be keen to know more about any of your books. I would be.

Now imagine yourself mumbling about that manuscript that’s buried in your computer’s archive, which was probably last opened a couple of months ago. Will that work? No, I don’t think so too. Reference to your published work will esteem you as the writer. In this digital age, some then quickly open their Instagram profile, website or blog, Facebook page or group, cover pictures in the phone, links to their book on Amazon, e-copies on the phone or hard copies at the back of their car, handbag or briefcase. When you can do that, oh yes, you’re a writer and every one will give you the required attention and engagement.

Let’s take a look at some of the practical steps that will help you get through your writing project so you can also lift your head up and be counted among writers.

1. Decide on the project

This is the first step. I chose not to assume that you’ve already decided what you want to write about. What works well is having a clear vision of what exactly you want to write about. This helps you to focus and makes writing easier. When you know what you need to achieve, you won’t get stuck on the introduction or the first section.

Break down your work into sections or headings. I learnt about this technique in college. I was always the last-minute student who would quickly write down the assignment a few hours before cut off time. Breaking down the essay into points would help me achieve this easier and quicker. It was more like filling in a template. Understanding what you want to write about and setting clear guidelines will help you keep going because the next step is always laid out. You do not necessarily stop to rethink when you’re done with the previous point or step, because that is when a lot of people develop a writer’s block and possibly quit. Outline your work and follow through.

2. Set targets

Always know what you want to achieve and by when, then break down those targets into daily goals. If you intend to cover two topics in a day, break that down into points or paragraphs. Some people work best with a word count. You can set a daily word count. You don’t need to write a lot. You just need to write often. Setting a daily goal will give you something to aim for. You will also always know when to write and not think or dread it. Make it small and attainable so that you can hit your goal each day and start building momentum. Never let a deadline pass; don’t let yourself off the hook so easily.

Celebrate when you reach that goal. I love screaming out aloud after ticking every accomplished task on my to do list. I’ve even added a celebratory tune that I’ve picked up from my son and that seems to be working. Even a huge “YES” with a fist up in the air can do it. Make sure you acknowledge yourself for reaching that daily target. Deadlines are not meant to torment you and give you pressure, they’re simply meant to guide your work plan and when you set and meet your own targets, meeting any other goals will be easier. It does something to your adrenalin and fuels you for the next day. Don’t forget to smile too, always and keep yourself motivated.

3. Create a writing space

Writing is art. It is an extensive creative process that needs stimulus. Certain writing rituals like writing in the same place every time may help boost one’s motivation. I always write from my bed. It is my best creative space and I write at night. During the day, I do other tasks from anywhere else in the house, but when night comes, I snuggle in my pyjamas and get productive. A lot of people have questioned this but it works for me. I don’t even fall asleep before accomplishing what needs to be done. So, it doesn’t matter if it’s a desk or a restaurant or the kitchen table. It just needs to be a special space, so that when you enter it, you’re ready to work. It should remind you of your commitment to finish your writing project. The idea is to create a comfortable place that makes you write without thinking. It should be your comfort, soothing and mind unravelling zone that will make your writing flow and unleash the writing beast in you.

As you write, you will find the story growing in ways you had never imagined. Your outline will often be discarded as you flow. Don’t bother being perfect; the faster you can put together ideas, the better. Eventually, this rough collection of thoughts, ideas, and plotlines will come together into a comprehensible book – after due editing and countless revisions of course. For now, focus on writing. The first draft is where you discover the story by yourself so write anything your story is telling to. Don’t stop to think too much.

3. Get early feedback

You may be self-publishing and like to do everything yourself, but getting some feedback from someone will boost your confidence and shape your direction.  You do not need to complicate yourself about where to get the feedback. Always look around you and try to approach that one person who will give you honest feedback, objectively. It will also save you from unnecessary frustrations especially, if you have a traditional publishing contract. You wouldn’t want to be asked to rewrite a book after you’ve finished. That will sting and may result in you quitting.

4. Revise

Take that feedback with wisdom and work on improving your work. Besides, the first draft is just a draft. Every writer has to revise and rewrite in order to perfect their manuscript. Emma Hill says the first draft is black and white, editing gives the story colour. This is the part where most writers fail. Completing a rough draft can be easy but turning that inexplicable copy into something readers would want to read takes time, patience and practice.

The perfect time to revise and rewrite would be a few months after the first draft. This gives you the required creative distance to analyse your work unemotionally. Writers tend to develop a strong connection with their work and may not take changes lightly, even from themselves. You may keep wanting that title or that sentence even if another part of you feels like changing it. However, when you give the draft a break and return to it later, you will be able to work on it objectively.

I’ve a friend who is working on a poetry anthology who has had to revise and rewrite several of his poems after a considerable break from writing them. He’s since attested to how open minded he now is and has had to change several titles and sometimes overhaul a whole poem completely.

The first rewrite should take you considerably longer than the first draft and that’s okay, keep at it. Don’t worry about getting every word right – you’ll take care of that during editing. Focus on drawing the rough ideas in the draft into a chronicle that actually makes sense.

This is the stage where you ask yourself pertinent questions, especially from the reader’s perspective. Does it make sense? Who is this speaking to? Which themes am I bringing out? Is the plot too slow? Have I answered the why?

5. Get yourself a drink

Now that you’re done with a comprehensible draft, dash to the nearest watering hole and grab a drink. You deserve it. All the editing and proofreading that you will do after this will be in a finished book. There shouldn’t be turning back after this stage. However, you need to remain disciplined and focussed. I’ve had a six years old manuscript that I’m still holding onto, despite countless revisions and reviews. Don’t let that happen to you, go back to your writing objective and commit to publishing. Remember, no one wants to hear about the manuscript that’s locked up in your closet.

6. Go on and publish

No matter what, publish that book. Don’t get stuck with a finished manuscript. You’re not a writer unless that book has seen the light of day. Go back to the publishing process and follow the steps to get your book out. Send it to the publisher, release it on Amazon, do whatever you need to do to get it to the world. The worst thing would be for you to quit once you’ve finished writing. Publish and get on with book number two. Remember, writing is art, no one fails at it, it’s just perceived differently. If the person next to you detests your book, the one across the room may fall in love with it, so don’t be scared of failure, there will always be critics. Before you can launch a bestseller, first you have to write. How can you be a bestseller unless you publish?

I hope this has boosted your morale and you will get down to writing and finishing your book. Best of wishes in your writing project.

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Let’s make a date next week as we work on overcoming the infamous writer’s block.

Patience