What To Do When You Get Stuck on a Book Project
Road blocks are inevitable. Be prepared to handle them.
Starting a manuscript is incredibly exciting. Finishing a manuscript? Even more exciting. You'll have an adrenaline rush that makes you want to pop the champagne and celebrate victory over what seemed (at one point) like an insurmountable foe. But everything that comes between those two moments—the actual work of getting words on paper—isn't so exciting. Often, it can get downright exhausting, especially as you hit the 60% mark.
I find that this is when most of my ghostwriting clients—my "author partners"—start to get tired. It's understandable: They've given their all for the first 50% and, as they pass that midpoint milestone, the realization of "Hey, we're halfway through!" often becomes, "Wait a minute... We're only halfway through?!" A sort of malaise sets in.
At this point, my job as the ghostwriter takes on a valuable new aspect—that of the cheerleader. Encouragement becomes essential. I remind my author partners, "You already did half! The end is in sight! The last chapters are easier than the first chapters!"
The last thing I want at this point is my author partner to burn out. When that happens, we risk losing momentum—and ending up with a partial manuscript. Here are some tricks I use to keep everyone motivated:
Put the review and revisions process on the back burner: For the first half of the book, especially the first few chapters, a continual feedback loop is essential. I'm still learning the author's voice and how they want to sound on the page. So, after every chapter, I'm sending them a draft for review, incorporating revisions, and then giving them another look. By the halfway point, I've got the author's voice down. Instead of bogging us both down by getting stuck in a constant review-and-revise loop, I wait. The focus at this point is continuing the interviews we need to get the information for the later chapters. I'd rather get words on the page first—and then submit larger chunks of chapters for review later.
Schedule a face-to-face: Most of my ghostwriting work is done via video conferencing. I have a weekly call with the client, where we talk through a chapter and I gather material from them (which I often supplement with my own research when writing). While Zoom and similar tools are undoubtedly useful, they can never fully duplicate a face-to-face encounter. When I sense my author partner's energy is lagging, I make a point of scheduling an in-person meeting. This often means a transatlantic flight on my side. However, the fresh energy and motivation we both get from an in-person exchange is well worth it.
Worry about perfect later: This goes hand-in-hand with pushing back revisions. You can edit an imperfect page of writing and make it perfect later. You can't edit a blank page. So, again, at this point in the process, I focus—and try to keep my author partner focused—on information gathering. The primary goal is to continue the interview-style conversations needed to get the raw material for the book (learn more about those interviews and how the ghostwriting process works). We can worry about editing, cover design, marketing blurbs, book jacket quotes, and all the rest LATER. First, we've got to get a book written!
If you're writing a book or ghostwriting a book and feel your gas tank running low after that halfway point, rest assured: You're not alone. Hopefully, the above tips can help.
I've also got good news for you: In my experience, you'll experience a big uptick in energy again around the 70% to 75% mark. At this point, the end will be in sight. You'll start to regain the excitement you had at the start of the project. Soon enough, you'll have your completed rough draft in hand and can pour yourself a well-deserved glass of bubbly to celebrate.
Thank you for reading my blog! This is a space where I share personal thoughts — an opportunity for self-expression that has nothing to do with my professional writing. None of the thoughts or opinions expressed in this blog should be construed as anything but my own, nor should they be affiliated with any company or person I contract with or write for.
NOW that that's done... I'd love to hear from you about this blog post in the comments!