Finishing a Book is a Skill



by Millie Ho

It hit me recently that out of all the writing skills I have, actually finishing a book is my least developed.

Compared to other skills such as character development, world building, or plotting, which I improved on a lot in 2015, it’s very rare for me to finish a final draft of a book. This means a solid Chapter One that continued to The End. This is understandable given my problems with writing perfectionism, but now that I’m no longer ripping up every draft when something doesn’t work because I’m approaching the writing process differently, I’m still noticing something in the way.

To give you some stats, I have only finished four novel-length final drafts in my entire life.

Compared to the nearly thirty drafts I started, revised, and then deleted/shelved away somewhere, that’s a pretty sharp contrast.

Many of these four drafts (averaging 70,000 words) were completed when I was much younger. For example, one was completed when I was fourteen, and another was when I was finishing high school. I think the great advantage of being younger was how confident you were. Every word was gold and you were writing for fun, not for publication.

Originally, I planned to show the final revised draft of the Long-Suffering Manuscript to beta readers in November of last year, but as of January 12, 2016, it’s still not where I want it to be. If I’m asking people to spend time on my work, it better be my best effort, something to slap a smile on their faces or make them recoil in shock.

This is not perfectionism speaking. This is my lack of experience with finishing a book.

That’s why I’m having trouble tying together some subplots and loose ends. That’s why I’m making notes upon notes of revisions, reading How To guides online and in book form, because those four final drafts ain’t enough to take me where I need to go.

Which brings me to a question:

Why did no one tell me that finishing a book is a skill I had to learn?

In writing classes during university, everybody emphasized characters and themes and pacing, but nobody reminded me that the key to any writing success is to simply finish the damn thing.

And finish another, and another, and another.

Perhaps it was too obvious. Perhaps the very idea is too broad or general.

Either way, if finishing a book is not my strongest suit, learning from my mistakes is.

My goal for 2016 is to simply finish more drafts so I can get stronger where I am weak. The advantage of having total creative freedom is also its disadvantage. I have tons of ideas floating around in my head that actively try to distract me from the Long-Suffering Manuscript, but now I see a good way of channeling them, by writing them into new drafts, and finishing them.

Beta readers, I apologize for the delay. I will finish the draft by early March.

Now, I’m off to exercise my finishing a book muscles.




Guest post contributed by Millie Ho. Millie is a writer and illustrator from Toronto, Canada. She uses her blog and YouTube channel to document what she’s learned about writing from both the writing process and from books, TV shows, and films.

226373498_dacf4f263f_bNeed help with your book or novel? Check out the Writer’s Toolbox, a list of free, discounted, and overall helpful links to tools and benefits to help you with what you do best: writing.





30 thoughts on “Finishing a Book is a Skill”

  1. I really do feel your pain. I too am struggling to finish a book. It’s been edited and all I have to do is sift through those edits and then write a new ending. Easy-peasy? Never. I find a hundred different ways to ignore the process. And you know what? It’s way more energy consuming avoiding the work than it is to just do it. Sigh. At least I know someone else struggles like I do. Thanks for the post.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks for your comment! I like what you said about how it’s more energy consuming to avoid the work than it is to just do it. I learned to shut off my brain and just leap into edits the same way somebody might leap into freezing cold water. Much of writing is frustrating and mundane (I talk more about this in a recent video), but it just comes with the territory. Good luck with your writing!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on Michael Seidel, writer and commented:
    Millo Ho’s post is so true. Writing is a continual path of learning in phases. First, how to write fiction – plotting, characters, story arc, pacing, dialogue. And then into editing and revising, making it more dynamic, aligning it all. Finishing novels becomes a powerful challenge. You’ve lived with it, loving it, caring for it, and then, finished with a draft, only to learn as you begin revising it, more work is required. You keep changing hats, from writer to editor to reader to critic, back to writer, moving through the phases.

    Yet, this is the same lesson to be learned about everything. Things are rarely fully finished. There’s often more that can be done to improve them, and learning to say, I’m done and accept what you’ve accomplished, is one of the ongoing challenges.

    So is learning not to stop too soon. It’s a balance on a rocking sea.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for your comment and for reblogging, Michael! “Things are rarely fully finished.” So true. This reminds me of how we never really finish learning either. Just when we think we found a writing process that works for us, something new comes along, or we discover how to improve an older method. Yes, we wear many hats. I think the most important thing is to only wear one of these hats at a time. When you’re writing, just write. When editing, just edit. I ran into problems in the past when I tried to edit while writing—lots of suffering and sadness there. It’s all about balance, I agree.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. So true, Millie, that you need to carefully separate your hats and don the right one at the right time. It’s so easy to go off track. That’s why I like to tell myself when it’s time to write, write like crazy. Edit, revise, and polish later. Thanks!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I have to learn that skill too! I am working on edits from my editor on my manuscript. That was a big step for me to take this past spring was to send it out to be edited. You are right, finishing the book is a skill, one that we will learn, just like we learned how to write the draft. Thanks for the post!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I well understand the feeling of not finishing a book. I’ve always had the “oh another idea” problem to deal with, one that’s plagued me my entire life. That’s why I have a myriad of short stories and scenes scattered across a number of worlds and dimensions.

    This is the year that things get finished though! I’ve come to understand that I’m not going to finish something of novel length. However, I can finish a ton of other scenes that I can put together to make an anthology of stories!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Congrats on finishing this year! Seems like you have a working system in place. What you said about finishing a ton of other scenes makes total sense. You’re breaking down the work and making it more manageable. I wonder if you could apply the same strategy to a novel and finish a novel that way as well.

      Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve thought about using that for a novel approach, and trying to link all the scenes that way. In my case, I feel it’s more like recognizing exactly what my limitations are and then turning them into strengths.


  5. For me, finishing the first draft wasn’t the hard part… dealing with the post-draft revisions is what kills me. I’m tempted to just write another and another and hope they’ll edit/rewrite themselves.

    Either way, the struggle is what binds writers together so thank you for sharing yours. Best of luck!!


  6. Millie, this is such a common issue for writers. I have a post coming out this Friday about writing scenes that specifically addresses the craft of finishing our books. Such a timely post from you coming into NaMoWriMo. Thank you, and good luck!


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