Creating in Flow

The world of creativity—with a twist of rationality

Six Tips for Finishing What You Start

You CAN complete your book (or anything!), per Emmy-winning guest blogger.

Write Your Book Now
I've posted many times in this blog about getting started and keeping going with your creative project. Today I'm hosting guest blogger Gene Perret on what it takes to finish a nonfiction book.

Perret is the author of Write Your Book Now! A proven system to start and FINISH the book you've always wanted to write!. He has won three Emmys and was head writer for Bob Hope and Carol Burnett. His new book is based on a writing class he's taught for many years.

Now, here's Gene Perret:

As you wander through a bookstore, you'll notice that each of the books has both a front and a back cover. Unfinished books are practically worthless. It's commendable to begin writing a book. However, to be of any benefit to you, the publisher, or the readers, finishing the book is imperative.

Therefore, once you begin a book-length manuscript, you'll need a game plan to get you to the back cover. What I recommend is a workable, practical writing schedule. This schedule details how much work you should get done in any given time. A well-conceived schedule should guide you in your writing and measure what you accomplish. It should be an incentive to keep you working on your book manuscript until it's ready for submission.

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This work plan should be personalized, and it should have the following characteristics:

1. Your schedule should be definite. It should spell out how much you predict you should get done and when. Generalities are too easy to excuse. And the time frames should be in relatively small increments. If the deadlines you design are too far off, they become generalities. There is a difference between saying, "I'll write one chapter a week" and saying, "I'll write four chapters a month."

What is the difference? If you plan on finishing four chapters in a given month and you don't complete anything that first week, you're not behind schedule. If you finish nothing the second week, you're still not off schedule. It's not until that fourth week when you might find yourself faced with the impossible task of writing all four chapters in a day or two. However, if you plan on writing one chapter a week, and you miss the first week, you are behind schedule. You must correct that. So the smaller time increments keep closer tabs on your dedication.

2. Your schedule should be challenging. Push yourself a bit on this project. Tasks that are too simple can cause you to lose enthusiasm for your work. That enthusiasm is absolutely necessary to keep you working until completion.

3. Your schedule should be reasonable. Yes, you want a challenge in your work schedule, but not one that's so demanding that it torments you. If the task becomes impossible, you'll certainly become discouraged, lose interest, and abandon it before completion. It's your job to determine how much you can plan in each given time period so that the task is demanding but doable.

[NOTE from S. Perry:  Frequent episodes of flow occur when you've found the right balance between challenge and boredom.]

4. Your schedule should include some free time. Writing a book is a delightful chore, but a chore nonetheless. There will be times when you'll be tired of the work, when you'll resent the work, when you want to simply get away from the keyboard. Your plan should realize that in advance and allow you some vacation periods. For example, suppose you do plan on writing one chapter each week. Fine, but schedule that output for three weeks and take every fourth week off.

What do you do with that brief hiatus? You can simply take some time away from the project. Do nothing. Relax, refresh, and rejuvenate. With the short respite you might return to the project with renewed zeal.

Or you can utilize this available time to catch up if you have fallen behind. Take this opportunity to get yourself back on schedule.

You can get away from the writing of the text and devote some time to related projects - sidebars, jacket copy, your biographical information you want to present in the book, ideas to promote your book when it's published, and so on.

If you're still filled with passion for writing your book, you can take advantage of this time to continue on. This can be a great opportunity to get ahead of your schedule. You can save your pre-planned vacation time for when you might need it more. Remember, there's nothing wrong with finishing your project ahead of the deadline.

5. Your schedule might include some incentives. Reward yourself occasionally for solid performance. For instance, if you meet a certain deadline, take in an entertaining movie, or treat yourself to a delightful meal at a favorite restaurant. Consider this a bonus for extraordinary work . . . and also a gimmick that could help you complete your project.

6. Your schedule should be goal-oriented. Rather than simply say, "I'll work for three hours every morning," say, "I'll finish at least one complete chapter by Wednesday." Spending three hours at the keyboard is only worthwhile if it produces results. If the boss hands you an assignment, she doesn't say, "Work on this each day." No, she says, "Have this on my desk by next Friday."

Understand, it's admirable that you would dedicate yourself to three solid hours at the keyboard each morning. However, promise yourself that those three hours will move your manuscript forward. Tie those hours in with a positive result. Some businessman once wisely said, "You can't manage something if you can't measure it." Similarly, you can't manage this task of writing a book if you can't measure your progress. So set definite goals.

Of course, all of the above is moot if you don't exercise the discipline necessary to stick with the schedule you design. You can alter it as you go if you find that necessary. If you were too optimistic about how much you could write in a given time period, adjust the schedule. If you inadvertently created a plan that was too easy, tighten it up a bit.

The ultimate goal is for you to get your book completed -- written and submitted. So do whatever is required to accomplish that objective. My advice is that part of what is required is to design a reasonable, workable schedule and then make a definite effort to stick to it.


Write Your Book Now! is available here.

Susan K. Perry, Ph.D., is a social psychologist and author. Her current focus is on the creative aspects of rationality and atheism.

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