Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Five Things that Might Help You Finish

Finishing your novel - Deb McLeod, The Writing Ranch
By: Deb McLeod

Are you struggling to finish your novel? Is it not coming out the way you want it to? Do you find yourself procrastinating when you can see the end? You’re not alone.

Part of being a writing coach is that I study the book-length process – mine as well as my clients. As I was recently finishing a multi-year, multi-viewpoint, sci-fi/fantasy angel thriller I began to notice some of my clients weren’t finishing their projects. All were gung-ho during the beginning phases, then they came to rely on me in the middle phase for accountability, for assignments due, for writer’s block and outline block and encouragement. But as time moved on I began to notice many of them would experience some sort of life crisis as they entered that third act of the novel process. It couldn’t be a coincidence.

As a coach, at first all I could think was: Is it me? Am I not pushing enough? Am I pushing too much? Not cheerleading enough? Not sensitive to the changes life throws? But in that third act of the process many clients suddenly couldn’t afford me. Or they had different obligations. Some lost their faith in the story, no matter how much I jumped up and down in defense of their work. But many of them would go off on their own, promising to write and to send me the story when they finished.

I do get how hard it is. Believe me. It’s taken me years to carve my life in such a way that I can put my writing first. Not first in that it replaces any of the other wonderful things I have, like my family, my clients and my friends. But first in the way that I put boundaries around it. I protect my writing time and answer the call to write, almost every day.

When I write, I’m happy. I feel good having written. I heard a line once from Marshal Chapman’s “Guitar Song” that goes: “There ain’t a thing in this whole wide world that makes me feel more like a real live girl than this guitar.” I know exactly, exactly, what she means.

So here are five things that might help you get to the finish line with your book-length project:
  1. Is it done, or just good enough?
  2. Plan a celebration
  3. Have a novel on deck
  4. Have a plan in place for beta readers
  5. Don't wait to start marketing

1. Is it done? Or Just Good Enough?

Know what kind of writer you are. I write to discover so I will spend more time getting it done the way I want it done, rather than making it good enough. But it takes me longer. And not everyone has what has been called my perfectionism. I’m not a perfectionist. I’m an artist. I know when a piece is done and when it’s just “good enough.” For more on my journey with this, see Finishing – Journey to the End. Know where your bar is. If it’s important to get it right, then dig deeper into the craft and make it right. Don’t drop the project! But if it’s good enough – let it go.

2. Plan a celebration

This likely goes without saying. When I finished, there was laundry, clients and payroll taxes due. But we did make time to go to my favorite restaurant for dinner. I think I’ll celebrate more when the book is published. But many people get a lot out of planning a reward or a celebration to get them through to the end.

3. Have a novel on deck

I have a Friday Writing Circle and we “raw write” together. Since I was editing “The Julia Set” for so long, on Fridays I began writing what I now call my ‘Friday Book’ during those circles. Now I have a year or so of freewrites from that class already built up on a book I started, stopped and started again too many times to count. But in that Friday group I was finally able to see the story and do the writing the story needed. The book started out as an autobiographical novel, but has morphed into its own plot – I didn’t do any of the things my main character does in that book, but the story contains me in a way that my angel thriller “The Julia Set” doesn’t. And it was easy to write, once a week on Fridays.

Now, I’m ready to start assembling those freewrites and pulling in some of my earlier writing and shaping it into a book. And I’ve started my next Friday book – a mystery. And there’s The Julia Set series that needs to be finished. So I have more writing work and more plans for my writing self that finishing has to be a part of my repertoire. So plan the next book and it will niggle you into finishing the first one.

4. Have a plan in place for beta readers

Know who you’re getting advice from before you finish. I arranged my beta readers in tiers. For more on this see Beta Reader Love-O-Meter. My husband is first-reader and he looks for the typos or the fact that I compiled a note file from Scrivener into the manuscript or some freewrite whine where I lamented about how hard this was. He’s great at continuity too.

Then I have my top tier beta readers. These are writer-readers who will find something wrong with the pages – because that’s what writers do. When I’ve incorporated or ignored their suggestions, the book will go to the reader-readers I’ve asked to read the manuscript. From them, I simply want to know when they're confused or bored. So finishing isn’t really finishing until you do the blue line for the publisher but by then you’ll be narrowing in on finishing the next book!

5. Don’t wait to start marketing

Unless you’re trying to traditionally publish, start marketing your book! I just heard an agent speak about marketing, and her advice was to do nothing until you make a sale, then work with the publishing company to figure out what’s best to do. I suppose that works because the lead times for traditional publishing are so god-awfully long. A book I story-edited was just sold to a small, but reputable press. It will be published in the Fall of 2018. Seriously??? So I guess if you’re traditionally publishing you don’t have to start marketing yet.

But if you’re planning to self-publish, start marketing now. Right now. Find a way to fold that into your process. It’s now time to put on the sales hat – though you can’t take off the writing hat either.


Finishing this novel means I’m ready for what comes next. Not the publishing, the criticism, or the marketing. I’m ready for what stories may come next and how they will change me as I write.

When you commit to the time and to whatever creative bar you set for yourself, finish it. There’s nothing like it.

About the Author: Deb McLeod, MFA, practices novel research immersion. For her novel, The Train to Pescara, Deb journeyed to Sardinia to study ancient goddess worship and spent time in the Abruzzi village her great-grandparents left in 1905. Her metaphysical knowledge for the Angel Thriller, The Julia Set, culminates from four years of studying and teaching meditation, clairvoyance and chakra healing. For over fifteen years, Deb McLeod has been a creative writing coach helping other writers to embrace their passion and get their words on the page. For more, see

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