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  • Writer's pictureTim Vandehey

Why You Can't Finish Your Book...and How to Get Closer to "The End"

If the book manuscript were a high school senior, it would be voted Most Likely Never to Be Finished. Like a male sex symbol in a ridiculous movie love scene that makes all us normal y-chromosomes feel terribly inadequate, the book project just keeps on going...and going...and going...

What gives? Why can't the manuscript reach a climax, burst forth with its finished words and chapters in a rush of literary ecstasy, collapse in a sweaty heap, fall asleep on the wet spot while its lover is trying to cuddle...and suddenly I feel as though I've carried this metaphor just a wee bit too far.

Let's move on, shall we?

Fact is, most would-be authors never finish their books. Never even come close. To flog the sex analogy a bit further (I know I said I was done with it, but I lied; I do that), forget about orgasm. They've barely started to get into a good rhythm with their manuscript when something happens. The kids knock at the door. The phone rings. A hamstring cramp. A fart.

Result: zero consummation. 

The point is, it's hard enough to complete a 70,000 word manuscript when it's your profession. When you're also clocking hours as a physician, teacher, consultant, or CEO, forget it. I can't tell you how many authors I've talked to who've come to me after years—or decades—of frustrating attempts to finish their book in a form that they're happy with. 

There are a lot of reasons for this. Lack of time. The intimidation of the writing process. Not knowing how to organize and plan a book. Low confidence. That internal terrorist who whispers, "That last chapter you wrote? It's rhino shit. Delete it." I'm working on a book about this topic called Why You Can't Finish Your Book, due out sometime between next fall and the melting of the Antarctic Ice Shelf. It's going to talk about the six most common reasons novice authors fail to finish their books and some solutions. 

But here, I want to share one of my favorite tricks. It's a great way to get around the three biggest roadblocks for successful people: lack of time, lack of an understanding of their own writer's voice, and extreme discomfort with telling their own story. I've found it to be extremely effective at getting tentative aspiring authors to loosen up and get their story down. Keep in mind, this trick works best for nonfiction books, especially books based on your personal story like memoirs, business success stories or self-help books. 


It's magic. When you're talking to someone else about yourself, you're not self-conscious because you're not bragging. You're sharing. I've seen authors with zero confidence in their ability to string five words together become honest-to-God storytellers doing this. They come alive. It's basically the same process I go through in interviewing my clients, only without me being involved. 

It's simple. Find someone who has 3-4 hours to spend with you in a quiet place where you'll be undisturbed. Buy them lunch or pay them if you need to, but make sure it's someone smart who will ask smart questions. Get a digital recorder and turn it on (or use the Rev smart phone app, which I love). Speak. Tell your story to this other person. Allow them to ask questions, but avoid rabbit holes. Stay on topic. Every hour, take a five minute break and then start again. When you're done, send the audio files to a company like Rev to be transcribed and voila! You have your story (at least its basics) and a good representation of your voice, captured. 

All writers use shortcuts. This is one. I'll share others in the future.

Now, go write. Peace.

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