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Three Things That Are Stopping You From Finishing Your Novel

Yeah, okay, that was a pretty arrogant title. But as someone who has finished three novels at age twenty, plus one upcoming novel at around 50,000 words and another at 30,000, I think I have a right to be a bit arrogant 😉

I’ve spoken to SO many wanna-be-novelists who have great ideas, but struggle completing them. For an example, and for the sake of anonymity, we’ll use a made-up writer named Tommy. Now Tommy is sixteen and has always enjoyed writing short stories. But one day, he decides he should write a novel.

For the next week, he plans out brilliant worlds, magnetic characters, and mind-blowing plot twists. He gets a special journal and carefully writes out the title he’s thought so long and hard about, with his author nom-de-plume beneath it. And when he puts those first words to paper, he’s beyond excited; he can already visualize his book as the next best-seller! The first few pages, or even chapters, fly by – and then, little by little, he loses steam.

Chapters become harder to finish. Scenes are paused partway through. The project is dragged out over the course of years, or abandoned altogether.

What. Went. Wrong?

The motivation was there. The creative juices were flowing. The world was original. The characters were interesting. But clearly, something went wrong, or else you – *cough cough* I mean Tommy – would have finished it. Right?

Maybe not.

Maybe the problem isn’t the story – maybe the problem is you.

*Gasp* “How dare you imply I’m to blame for not finishing my own story!” you say, indignant.

I know, it’s an audacious claim, but one I think you’ll agree with me on. There’s literally no one else you can blame. Sure, you could say how your boss makes you work extra hours so you don’t have time, or your family/chores/obligations take precedence (for more on making time to write, check this out), or that you don’t have a high-speed word processing computer. But ultimately, these things are just hinderances. If you had time and resources to start a novel, my guess is, you have time and resources to finish it. Maybe not in 3-6 months, like some best-selling authors do. Maybe it’ll be on a spiral notebook, rather than a fancy computer. But by hook or by crook, you can finish it.

So now that we’ve established it is your fault you can’t finish your novel (yes, you can be offended by my bluntness), let’s talk about the three most common reasons I’ve encountered:

  1. You don’t write consistently, so you constantly feel disconnected from your story. This is a very common, and legitimate, reason for not finishing your novel. The obvious answer is setting up a time block to write. It doesn’t have to be every day, but a few times a week will make a huge difference. Even just a few hundred words a day. Maybe less! Point is, you’re getting something written down. (Want to learn more on how to write consistently? Check this out).
  2. You’re very imaginative … and therefore, you get a ton of new story ideas that keep pulling you away from your novel. Okay, being totally honest, I struggle(d) with this one a lot. Especially growing up, I’d have a dozen ideas for stories. A lot of times they’d end up as short stories, but I’d never stick with them long enough to make them into novels. Now, I still hop back and forth between a few projects – and every so often I’ll write the first chapter if I have a really great idea – but generally, I’ve taught myself to set aside new projects until I finish the one I’m on. (Some of you more astute readers will note that I have TWO novels, both in various stages of incompletion. You may keep your opinions to yourself ;P )

    If you’re the same way, constantly getting new ideas, I recommend keeping a few documents (or a notebook) with all the great ideas you come up with – and leave them there. Don’t touch them again until you finish the book you’re working on. I know, I know, it’s hard! But if you keep hopping back and forth between projects, you probably won’t finish any of them.
  3. You suffer from that common-yet-vicious plague known simply as Writer’s Block. Ah, yes, that mortal enemy to the soul of every writer. Alas, there is no ‘cure all’ for writer’s block. Yet, I find the more things I have written, and the more I’ve conquered writer’s block, the less I get it. Why? I realize that every block can be conquered – it’s just a matter of time, energy, and determination.

    The most important thing to determine is why you’re having writer’s block. Are you physically/emotionally tired? Unsure about where your story is going? Writing a really important scene, and thus scared that you’ll mess it up? For more specific directions based on your answer, read my post on writer’s block. It’ll give you more in-depth help and keep me from rambling any longer on this already lengthy post.

If none of these apply, you are either on your way to becoming a very excellent writer, or you have very strange problems (haha!). In all seriousness, if you have a question I haven’t covered, please drop me a message or leave a comment below – I’ll do my best to answer, and if it’s good, I may even use it in this (or future) blog posts!

Now go out there and finish your novel. You’re out of excuses!


J. H. Gates

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