You’ve probably had the experience of starting a novel or blog with great intentions… …only to find that, a few months later, you’ve barely made any progress.
Maybe you started strong but lost momentum.
Maybe you jumped ahead when you should’ve paused. Or maybe you got discouraged and gave up.
And you wonder: how to write a book (or blog).
I’ve coached many writers in workshop groups over the past few years, and I’ve noticed that there are six key stages when projects often stall or go wrong.
Here’s what to watch out for.
Danger Stage #1: Once You’ve Got a Great Idea
Let’s say you’ve got a new idea you’re excited about. Perhaps it’s a great premise for a novel, a topic for a blog, or a prompt you want to work on for a short story. Writers tend to make one of two mistakes here:
- They jump straight in, full of enthusiasm, without planning. They make a great start, and might get a few chapters into the novel or a few posts into a blog … but then they get stuck.
- They wait – and wait – until the “perfect moment” to begin actually writing. They put off starting until they’ve got past family commitments and a busy spell at work … or they read about their chosen field of writing without getting any words down on paper.
Once you’ve got a great idea, invest some time in planning.
You don’t necessarily need a chapter-by-chapter outline of your novel, but you’ll at least want a clear idea of who your characters are, what kicks the story off, what key scenes take place, and how it’s all going to end. If you’re writing a blog, plan out your next month of posts.
Having an editorial calendar makes it much easier to get a great balance of content and to keep yourself on track and motivated.
Danger Stage #2: When You’re a Few Chapters In
Many writers end up abandoning their books about five chapters in. At this stage, your initial burst of enthusiasm has waned, and it feels like you have a really long way to go until “The End.”
Some writers are serial abandoners, with many just-begun novels, or several attempts at starting a memoir or non-fiction book.
If you fall into this pattern, it’s easy to get defeatist, and tell yourself “I never finish anything.”
Develop a consistent, regular writing routine and stick to it, whether that means writing daily first thing in the morning, writing during your lunch break, or having a couple of evening sessions each week. If you write one chapter of 1500 words per week (that’s about 215 words per day), in six months, you’ll have close to 40,000 words, which is easily half a full-length novel.
You might like to read Darren Hardy’s The Compound Effect for an encouraging look at how small, regular efforts add up.
Danger Stage #3: When You Hit a Roadblock in Your Writing
I can’t think of a single writing project I’ve taken on where everything went smoothly from start to end.
If you’re writing anything longer than a blog post, chances are, you’re going to get stuck at some point.
Maybe you need to do more research, or you’ve discovered a huge hole in your plot. When you get stuck, it’s easy to put your work aside for a few days while you figure things out.
The problem is, “a few days” quickly turns into a few weeks, then a few months.
Don’t plow on blindly when you realize there’s a problem – there’s no point writing chapter after chapter if you’re going to have to eventually cut them. Instead, grab your notebook, and start figuring out what you need to do to solve the problem.
Asking yourself “What’s the next action?” is vital to David Allen’s process and book Getting Things Done.
Danger Stage #4: The End of Your First Draft
You’ve finished the first draft of your book. Congratulations! Break out the champagne, share the news with your Facebook friends, and celebrate how far you’ve come.
Even if your project is a short story or mini-ebook, you’ve done really well to complete the first draft.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re done, though.
No first draft is perfect, and most aren’t anywhere close to publishable (mine definitely aren’t). However keen you are to be done with your project, don’t rush it out before it’s ready.
Set your book / blog post / short story aside for awhile. Ideally a week or more for a book, and a whole day for a blog post or short story.
Then read through the whole thing, and note any “big picture” changes you need to make such as cutting entire chapters, rejigging the relationship between characters, or adding new material. For more on the editing process, see Eight Simple Tips for Editing Your Own Work.
If you can, get other people to help you edit. You’ll want to do a full edit yourself, then send your work to them for feedback. Knowing that you have readers waiting can help you focus on doing a great job of getting your project shipshape.
Danger Stage #5: Your First Rejection
Whatever you write, and however good you are, there’s one difficult moment you’re certain to face at some point in your career, and that’s your first rejection.
It could be a rejection letter from an agent or editor, your first negative review, or the first critical comment on your blog. Some writers get so upset by rejection that they let it stop them entirely. They’d rather give up than face negative feedback.
Every author gets rejected. It’s no reflection on the value of your work (or of you as a person). S
ome editors simply won’t “click” with your style, some blog readers will be having a terrible day when they leave that snarky comment, and so on.
Do the best you can with your writing, but don’t be afraid to put it out in the world. If you do get a rejection, give yourself a limited amount of time (maybe 24 hours) to feel sorry for yourself, then get straight back to writing.
Danger Stage #6: After Your Work is Published
Your blog post is up on your site, your book is on Amazon, or your short story collection is available for free online.
Whatever form publication takes, your work is out there for the world to see. (If you get stuck just before publication, read Carol Tice’s post Scared of Publishing? 2 Proven Ways to Write With Confidence.)
Many writers don’t realise how crucial promotion is.
Unless you’re writing purely for personal enjoyment (a diary or memoir), you’ll want as many people as possible to read your work.
How can they do that if they’ve never heard of it? Even if you have a publishing deal, there’s a limit to what your publisher will (and can) do for you. Most authors have to arrange their own book launches, do their own social media, and so on.
Get to grips with the idea of promotion – it doesn’t mean becoming a scammy marketer. Instead, it means getting the word out about your book.
For bloggers, one of the best ways to promote your work is to build relationships with other bloggers.
This could mean getting to know them on Twitter, or pitching them a guest post for their blog, which will give you access to their audience.
Is your writing project currently at one of these danger stages?
Now you know what to do to navigate it successfully. But maybe you have other strategies that work for you.
If so, tell us in the comments below. And if I’ve missed any danger stages, share those too.