My upcoming release, Forgotten Paradise, will be my 20th published book. I never thought I’d publish a single book, let alone twenty. But about ten years ago, something just clicked. Adding “write a novel” to one’s bucket list is so ubiquitous now, it’s cliché. I’ve had many people tell me they write and ask me the secret to finishing a book. Ten years ago, I didn’t know the answer. Now, I’m pretty sure I do. But it’s not a simple answer, and it isn’t a pretty one, either. It isn’t even original.
So what’s the recipe to finishing a book? The way I see it, you need five elements, the last of which is the most important and also the hardest to come by.
1) A Love of Writing: You don’t need to be a great writer. You just need to enjoy writing. Because if you don’t, what’s the point other than being able to say you wrote a book? First off, let me say that I’ve always written something. From the angsty teenage poetry my mother shared (to my great embarrassment), to the fantasy stories and romances I would start and never finish, I always loved to write. I’m pretty sure I totally sucked. But writing was an outlet for my emotions and imagination, and I loved it.
2) Ideas: You need to take heed of your muse and recognize ideas when they present themselves. Here again, you don’t need to be cutting edge or particularly talented. But you need an idea. Inspiration. Something you want to see grow and develop. That you want to grow and develop. Many of my stories are inspired by things around me: people, other books, movies, Japanese anime (my guilty pleasure), music, even my dreams (the literal ones I dream at night). Write things down. Pay attention. Your breakout novel may be an idea right in front of your nose.
3) Planning: Yes, you have to think through a book before you start writing. You don’t need to be an outliner. You can “pants” it if you prefer. But you need to at least imagine a beginning, middle, and end. Writing without direction for me meant never finishing a project. I still love, love, love writing the first chapter of a book. But now I don’t start that book unless I’ve figured out where I’m headed from that first chapter.
4) Writing: You’ve heard this one, and it’s true. You have to write on a regular basis. Sounds simple. Of course it’s not. You have to make a commitment, be it a few hours a day, or just a few hours a week. You can commit to word count, to a number of pages, or an amount of time. But you must commit. Yeah, it sucks. Would I rather be outside on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon than writing for six hours? Hell yes. I find that writing to a deadline (be it my own or my publishers) helps give me the extra kick in the ass I need to finish projects. You don’t necessarily need a deadline, but you need a commitment. If you commit to writing regularly, you are a writer.
5) Focus: You have to focus on what you are writing. You cannot always give in to your imagination and start the next story before you’ve finished the current one. This was killer for me, and the reason I never finished anything as a kid. I indulged my muse to the extent that she took over. I flitted from story to story, idea to idea. I got nothing done. Sure, writers (me included) often work on multiple projects. But they are defined projects. If I come up with what I think is a great story idea, I write it down and save it. I don’t indulge, even though the little kid in me is drooling over that idea like candy. And believe me, I drool a lot! If I really feel I’m stuck on a story, I may skip ahead and write parts of it I’ve been looking forward to writing. But I don’t abandon a project in favor of a sparklier, shinier one.
That sure as hell wasn’t pretty, was it? Reminds me of my college Freshman English Seminar, held at 3 o’clock in the afternoon when I was sleepy. Writing a book isn’t particularly sexy. It isn’t particularly exciting. But read between the lines and you’ll find plenty of room to indulge your creativity and still get it done. Creativity, energy, and desire to write are all amazing things you can’t live without as a writer. But you have to tame those amazing things to get to your goal.
Remember, we aren’t talking getting published here, we’re just talking finishing a book. Publication takes another crap-ton of work. But that’s a post for another day….
So who’s game?
I’ll leave you with the blurb and excerpt from my latest story. Inspired by scuba diving and a trip to the Dominican Republic. Yep. I wrote it down and saved it for later. –Shira
When a megacompany threatens to take over his family-owned business, programming prodigy Adam Preston escapes the stress with a much-needed vacation in the Dominican Republic. There he meets attractive, intelligent, insightful Jonah James, a scuba dive instructor, and what starts as a holiday fling soon blossoms into much more.
But Jonah has a secret: ten years ago he woke up on an island beach with no idea how he got there… or even who he is. Their paradise may not be as perfect as it seems. When Jonah’s memories come crashing back like waves on the sand, will it be Adam clinging to the proverbial life raft, or will the two men find a safe harbor to ride out the storm?
WHILE HENRI washed down the patio, Jonah hung the last two wetsuits and sprayed down the rinsing bins. Small rivulets of sand and water streaked the painted concrete.
“I can finish,” Henri told him.
“Thanks.” Jonah walked over to the benches and retrieved his BC and regulator from a hook. “I owe you a drink.”
Henri laughed. “Good thing they’re free or you’d have to take out a loan.”
“Meet you at Giuseppe’s in an hour?” Jonah hung his gear inside the staff room.
“Not tonight. Got a date with Viola.” Henri stopped spraying for a moment and gestured toward the office. “It’s our six-month anniversary.”
“Six months? Impressive. So what’s for dinner?”
“Sushi,” Henri said. “At Yumi.”
“You’re taking her all the way to Punta Cana?” Jonah chuckled and slapped Henri on the back. “Must be love.”
“A man does as he does.” He winked and added, “I borrowed Torey’s car.”
“A man’s gotta do what he’s gotta do,” Jonah corrected. Henri’s English was damn good, so Jonah enjoyed teasing him the few times he made mistakes.
“So how about you?” Henri asked with a crooked grin.
“Me?” Jonah knew where Henri was going, but he wasn’t going to bite on that particular topic.
“You’ve been here a few weeks now. Met anyone interesting?”
Jonah shook his head. “If I had, I wouldn’t be telling you about it,” he teased.
“Fine. To be that way.”
“Be that way. Not ‘to be.’”
Henri laughed and headed over to the counter, where Viola was working on assignments for the next day’s dives. “The guests think I’m sexier when I get things wrong.”
Jonah pulled the elastic from his hair and ran a hand through his still-damp curls. He waved at Viola. “Have fun tonight!” He slipped on his sandals and headed down the path to the staff dormitories. He’d only made it to the towel-return shack when he noticed a man standing in the middle of the intersection of two paths, rubbing the bridge of his nose.
“Perfect,” the man muttered.
“Lost?” Jonah forced his gaze up from the dusting of reddish hair on the man’s nicely defined pecs.
He looked at Jonah with warm brown eyes. “That obvious?”
“Happens a lot,” Jonah reassured him. “Where’re you headed?”
“Dive shop. Although by now, it’s probably closed.” American, judging by the accent. East Coast. A hint of New Jersey but polished so it was barely noticeable.
Jonah glanced at his watch. “You have another ten minutes.” He pointed the way he’d just come. “It’s about a hundred feet that way. You can’t miss it.”
“No problem.” Jonah offered the man a reassuring smile. “Took me a few days to get my bearings.”
“My mother used to tell me I’d lose my way in a shower stall.”
Jonah chuckled. “That bad?”
The man nodded.
“I could think of worse places to get lost with you,” Jonah quipped, immediately regretting it. The man’s lean body was far too interesting, especially given the no-fraternization policy Jonah had signed when he was hired. Not that the hotel had ever fired someone for taking a guest to bed, but Jonah felt more comfortable following the rule. It made things easier. Celibacy was safer. Flirting was downright dangerous.
The man flushed. Even more interesting.
The man quickly regained his composure. “Do I know you?” he asked.
Jonah also got that a lot. “I’m sure I’d have remembered you,” he said truthfully. It wasn’t every day he met a redhead, let alone one this attractive.
“My mistake.” The man offered his hand. “Adam Preston.”
“Good to meet you, Adam.” Jonah shook Adam’s hand. Strong grip. Confident, but not overly so. “I’m Jonah. Jonah James.”
“I’d better go,” Adam said. “Maybe I’ll see you around.”
“I hope so.” Jonah watched as Adam headed toward the dive shop. No fraternization, he reminded himself with a sigh. Maybe it was time to rethink the celibacy gig.