Are you wondering if you’re really ready to finish your book?
Sometimes, it can be hard to tell – especially if we’re getting bogged down by our self-doubt. But that self-doubt can be a sign that you are ready to finish.
And while we at Resilient Writers want you to finish your book, it’s also important to remember that we don’t always have to be in a state of finishing to be a “Real Writer.”
[02:09] I really strongly believe that there has to be time in a writer's life where we're just playing around.
[04:12] I think a writer is someone who writes, but there's no question that it kind of gives you that extra level of satisfaction.
[05:08] You know it's not yet a full book, but you've started it and you think, “okay, it really could be something someday.”
[07:21] Some of these folks might be well-meaning, but I think they're leading us on and it's a bit divorced from reality. Of course your book is going to take you longer to write than a weekend or a month.
[09:43] You've already got that germ of an idea, and you've committed to it. Do not underestimate that. Embrace the power of that initial commitment.
[11:23] And then the truth of that is that once you have the draft, you end up ripping the guts out of it anyway in revision. No book is a certainty.
[13:28] You have probably spent your life loving books, reading books, loving language, enjoying story, and so IN you are all of those books.
[14:58] No matter what happens to the book, you are now someone who can finish.
Well, hey there, writer. Welcome to The Resilient Writers Radio Show. I'm your host, Rhonda Douglas, and this is the podcast for writers who want to create and sustain a writing life they love.
Because—let's face it—the writing life has its ups and downs, and we wanna not just write, but also to be able to enjoy the process so that we'll spend more time with our butt-in-chair getting those words on the page.
This podcast is for writers who love books, and everything that goes into the making of them. For writers who wanna learn and grow in their craft, and improve their writing skills. Writers who want to finish their books, and get them out into the world so their ideal readers can enjoy them, writers who wanna spend more time in that flow state, writers who want to connect with other writers to celebrate and be in community in this crazy roller coaster ride we call “the writing life.”
We are resilient writers. We're writing for the rest of our lives, and we're having a good time doing it. So welcome, writer, I'm so glad you're here. Let's jump right into today's show.
Well, hey there, writer. Welcome back to another episode of The Resilient Writers Radio Show. I'm so glad you're here. This is another episode where it's just you and me. It's a solo episode. And today I want to talk about how to know when you're ready to finish a book.
So, here's the thing. Not all writers want to finish a book. Sometimes we're in a stage where we are just writing short stories, or we're just doing character sketches, or we're out in coffee shops and we're kind of playing around. Maybe we're playing around with writing prompts and language. Maybe we're writing things that are based on what we're overhearing in the coffee shop. Maybe we're doing some journaling. Not all of our time needs to be dedicated towards the book as the end goal.
I really strongly believe that there has to be time in a writer's life where we're just playing around, and that's part of what helps us develop our skill as a writer, and it's part of what helps us have some fun, and we grow and we learn.
I definitely don't think that everyone should be writing a book. But I will say—and I asked this in the Writer's Flow Studio, once. The Writer's Flow Studio is my membership for writers to help people go from a state of fear to a state of flow so that they're writing consistently and achieving their writing dreams.
And I asked the folks in The Writer’s Flow Studio, “is there anyone here who's not working on a book?” And there was nobody. Everybody was trying to finish a book of one kind or another, whether they were poets, whether they were writing short stories or creative nonfiction or essays, or a novel or a memoir. They were all working towards eventually having a book.
Now, they were at different stages, but they were all working on a book, and I think it is very common for writers to be at that stage eventually where we think, “huh, I wonder if this could be a book.” It happens, right?
A lot of times we come to writing because we love books, and so books are the ultimate goal. We want to see a book with our name on it on the table in Barnes and Noble, or Chapter Indigo, or Waterstones, depending on what country you're in. Or, we want to be able to self-publish on Amazon, or we want to be able to send people to the library and find a book that has our name on it.
And for many of us, it also has that good-housekeeping seal of approval that we are a quote-unquote real writer. Now, I don't believe that's true. I think a writer is someone who writes, but there's no question that it kind of gives you that extra level of satisfaction, particularly if it's something you've long wanted since you were a little girl.
Here's how I think you can tell if you're really ready to finish a book. Because many of us start books and then kind of set them aside, and we're just not ready. So, here's how to tell if you are ready to finally finish a book…
And the first thing is: you dream about it. Maybe you've been dreaming of being an author your whole life. Walking into the bookstore or the library and just seeing your book there on a shelf.
But I also mean that you might've been dreaming about the content of your book. Your characters are kind of taking over your thoughts during the day, or you're finding yourself with new short story ideas at night and waking up to make notes on a pad next to your bed, or you keep writing pages of lines or notes towards the idea of the book that you're holding in your heart.
You know it's not yet a full book, but you've started it and you think, “okay, it really could be something someday.” You've gone through periods of feeling completely obsessed with it in some way, shape or form. Neil Gaiman said, “A book is a dream you hold in your hand”, and I think for writers that's especially true. But here's another way that is a bit counterintuitive.
Another way I think you know when you're ready to finally finish a book you doubt about it, too. It's entirely possible that when the thoughts about finishing your book have come across your mind, you've pushed it aside. You've thought, “oh my God, it's just going to be too hard to do this,” all on your own, or you've begun to doubt that you know enough to be able to finish. The dream comes and then, hard on its heels, so does the doubt.
And that, my friend, is completely normal. It is just the reality of being a writer. It's something that the author Zadie Smith calls “the Great Gap.” If you've had the dream, you've had the doubt, and the trick is to acknowledge that you feel that way, and keep on writing anyway. Self-compassion goes a really long way to overcoming self-doubt.
I consider doubt a sign that you're really serious, because it wouldn't matter otherwise. It wouldn't matter to you quite so much and your brain wouldn't be bothering to generate a fear response for you. Self-doubt is your brain's way of signalling that your creative work means something to you, and if it means something to you, then you need to finish. Erica Jong said that she went for years and years not finishing anything, because of course when you finish something, you can be judged, and often it's that fear of being judged that is behind a lot of the self-doubt.
Another way you can know if you are ready to finally finish your book is that you've already got some pages down. Somewhere out there in the wild west of the internet—there are definitely people claiming you can write a complete book in the weekend or failing that in just 30 days—I saw a Facebook ad recently from someone who said, “you can finish your book in a day.” Not so sure about that. Some of these folks might be well-meaning, but I think they're leading us on and it's a bit divorced from reality.
Of course your book is going to take you longer to write than a weekend or a month. It's going to take months of work, or definitely weeks of work, to write the number of pages you need to complete your first draft, and then it's going to take more time to revise and edit so that the book is the best book it can possibly be.
But that said, if you've ever heard that seductive whisper of, “hey, this could be a book,” then chances are you've already got some pages written.
You know you're ready to complete a full book if you're not starting completely from scratch and you've already got some pages to provide a necessary starting point. Even if those particular pages don't end up surviving all the way to the published version of your book. It happens. Revision's a real thing.
Your pages might be typed up and ordered in a file on your computer, maybe you've got a whole dedicated folder in Google Drive or something, or in your own special box in the closet. But your pages might still be in your notebook or writing journal and you haven't yet migrated them over, and that's fine. Either way, don't discount the power of the start, the power of the idea that is already there waiting for you.
If you have poems, maybe you've got 10 of them and you know you're going to need 50, they don't have to be published poems. They just have to be written. Even sketchy drafts are going to do. And if you're writing short stories, I think if you've got three completed stories towards the 10 or 12 that it'll eventually take you to complete a story collection, then you’re well on your way. The same is true for essays. It's a nice round number because it makes you go, “oh, is there possibly a book here?”
Some of you can begin to see themes that are coming out, right? I'm not saying published, just written, just drafted. Okay? Let's keep the art and its commercial expression through publishing separate. That's some hard-won experience I'm sharing with you right there. If you are working on a novella or a novel, it's going to depend on the scope of your project, but if you've got 25, 30 pages down, now you can get to the 150 to 300 it's going to take to finish, because you've already got the first part done.
You've already got that germ of an idea, and you've committed to it. Do not underestimate that. Embrace the power of that initial commitment. The point I'm making here is that you're not just a person who says, “well, someday I'd like to write a book.” You've already taken a deep breath and you've gotten started, so that's huge.
The other important consideration here for knowing if you are finally ready to finish a book is that you're willing to figure it out. I'm not going to pretend that it's always going to be easy for you to finish your book. So what?
You're going to have some good writing days, you're going to have some bad writing days. You're going to have some really awful writing days. Welcome to the writing life! That's how it goes. But the easiest way to tell if you're ready to finally finish writing a book is that you're really just determined to figure it out as you go along.
And if you're not sure how to figure out how to make the time to write, you're going to sit down and figure out a plan. Not sure about subplots, you can figure it out as you go along. You get the draft down, and you then come back in the revision process to tie all your plot lines together. If you're not sure how much knowledge of historical fact you need in order to write your Victorian novel, not a problem. You're going to figure it out on Google and YouTube and then just give it a go, because the reality of finishing the first draft is, you can't finish the book without a first draft.
And then the truth of that is, that once you have the draft, you end up ripping the guts out of it anyway in revision. No book is a certainty.
If you ask any author who's already written and published their first book and now faces the blank page of the next, they will tell you that. But knowing that the process is uncertain just offers so much freedom. If you love books and you love playing around with language, think of how much fun you can have finishing a book.
If you dream about it, if you doubt about it, if you've already got it started and you feel that initial surge of commitment towards your idea and you're willing to learn and figure it out as you go along, then, dear writer, you absolutely can finish a book. No question.
I work with writers all the time in my First Book Finish program. Some have even come in with just a few pages and a great idea, and over the course of the 12 weeks that we work together, they finish the draft. If they've already come in with a draft, they finish the revision.
I know that it's possible, and if it's possible for other people, then it's possible for you. I'm going to be running First Book Finish again this fall, towards October, so keep an ear out. If you have started a book but are struggling to finish it on your own, and you'd like to work with me with some hands-on support in a really supportive group coaching environment, and finally finish that thing in 2023, I'm your girl.
I'd love to work with you, and First Book Finish will be open later this fall. Of course, you can do it on your own, but sometimes it's just easier to have the accountability and the loving support and encouragement that comes with having a coach and doing it along with a group of other committed writers as well.
If you have ever dreamt of finishing a book, know that it is in you. It is absolutely in you. You have probably spent your life loving books, reading books, loving language, enjoying story, and so IN you are all of those books. All of the books you've read over your lifetime lead up to a kind of embodied knowledge that you already have that helps guide you and drive you through your first draft.
There's more to it, of course. There's some skills that you can pick up around increasing the tension in your scene, and making sure the stakes are working in your novel, and figuring out act two, and your endings, and how do you revise, and all of that. It's all there for you to learn and figure out. And what I love about watching people finish books over the years—and I've now had hundreds of writers go through First book Finish—what I love is the books.
I love the fact that these books are finished and out in the world. I love that. However, I also love the writers that we become in the process of finishing. I think that's the most important thing. No matter what happens to the book, whether it goes on and becomes a New York Times bestseller or a USA Today bestseller, and people are talking about it, and it wins awards, and the critics love it—are there any critics left? I'm not sure.
Maybe it's just selling up a storm on Amazon, or maybe your aunt read it and she really loves it. Or maybe you feel like the writer you've longed to be all these years. No matter what happens to the book, you are now someone who can finish a book. You are now someone who's learned how to revise a scene. You are now someone who's learned about beats in dialogue and how to make your dialogue really engaging, how to get subtext into your dialogue. You're someone who's learned how to write a good ending.
Do you know what I mean? That fills you with a sense of satisfaction. It's Maslow's hierarchy of needs with self-actualization at the top, right? It's you becoming who you're meant to become in this world and enjoying that sense of purpose and meaning in your life. It's so rich and rewarding, and that to me is what matters the most when we're trying to finish a book.
If you want to finish, you can finish, and if you'd like to have my help with it, check out First book Finish later this fall. If you go to resilientwriters.com on the first page, there's a whole bunch of different resources. There's a DIY Writing Retreat resource, there's a Writer's Weekly Planner, and if you download one of those, you'll get on my email list, and then you'll definitely hear when doors open for First book Finish, if that's something you're interested in.
So if you have been dreaming about it, if you have been doubting about it, if you've got a bit of a start going, then for sure you can finish a book. I'm excited for you. I'm excited for the book, and I'm excited for the writer you're going to become in the process of finishing your book.
That's it for me today. I hope this has been helpful to you, and I'll see you next week in the next episode of The Resilient Writers Radio Show.
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