The #1 Reason Why So Many Novels Go Unfinished


Did you know that over 80% of adults want to write a book but only 3% ever get to 'The End' of a draft? That means that 97% of people who want to write a book never finish. Why is that?

In this post, I'm we're going to explore why so many novels go unfinished, and what you can do to ensure you finish every project that you start. I'm going to share a really important mindset shift that you need to make if you want to be the kind of writer who finishes drafts and gets their story out into the world. 

And not to toot my own horn, but there’s a reason why I’ve been able to help so many writers finish their books and go on to become published authors -- and it’s not just because I teach them new skills or techniques. It’s also because I help shift their mindset into something that’s highly conducive to writing a story with as few roadblocks as possible. So, that’s what I’m going to help you with today. 


The #1 Reason Why So Many Novels Go Unfinished

The #1 reason why so many novels are never finished is that most writers expect to produce a first draft that’s perfect, or at least, really good -- and then, when it’s not perfect or really good, they give up on writing their story altogether.

And unfortunately, this is a belief (and a standard) that many writers have adopted to their own detriment. And like I said, this is exactly why so many novels -- like 97% of them if you believe the statistics -- never get finished.

Now, think about this for a moment…

All of these novels never get finished because the author deemed their first draft to not be perfect or good enough. They probably compared their work in progress draft, or their finished first draft to finished works from published authors and found their stories lacking.

But here’s the thing...

These are novels that could have been great if the author just hung in there and had the right mindset.

These stories could have gone on to be published and could have impacted many reader’s lives. They could have won awards or been adapted to the big screen or turned into TV shows… who knows, right? And that’s the thing -- we will never know.

And the reason we will never get to know or experience these stories that could have been great is that the writer essentially gave up on themselves (and their story) because what they produced wasn’t perfect on the first try. Is that sad or what?

How to Finish Every Project You Start

So, how do we avoid this happening to us? Well, first, I’d like to offer you a new mindset to adopt and it’s this...

Trying to be a perfect writer (or even a good writer) -- trying to write a perfect draft (or even write a good draft) -- is an impossible task. 

You will NEVER do it, at least not at first.

In fact, expecting to write a perfect, or even a good first draft, is like expecting to go through life without making any mistakes.

It’s like expecting a baby to start walking without ever falling down, or expecting to learn how to play the guitar without ever hitting a wrong note. It’s like adopting a new puppy and expecting it to not pee in the house.

It’s just not realistic. And not only is it not realistic, but creativity is not a paint-by-number process. It’s not even a linear process.

So, even if you outline your story in advance, or follow one of the popular plotting methods like Save the Cat or the Hero’s Journey, there’s a process of discovery that needs to happen with every story you set out to write.

Stories unfold and grow within us. They change and evolve in our minds as we get to know them more. And every day that we sit down to work on our stories, we learn a bit more about our characters, the plot, the world, and what we’re trying to say.

You can’t possibly know everything about your story right out of the gate.

You can’t know what kind of epiphanies you’ll have, or what your mental state will be each day when you show up to write, or what kind of things will influence your story because you can’t predict the future. And because of that, you can’t expect perfection. The moment you put this expectation on yourself and your work, you’ve already failed.

So, let me say this again...

Getting your draft perfect on the first try is never possible.

And I’m even willing to say that writing a “good” cohesive draft is rarely possible -- I have seen it happen, but mostly it’s because the author did A TON of work on their story upfront before writing a single word. But for the most part, you’re not going to be able to write a first draft that doesn’t have any plot holes or inconsistencies. It’s just not possible.

And the problem is, too many people think or hope that they can write a perfect first draft. And even worse, they believe if they don’t then that somehow means they aren’t good writers.

They expect perfection and the moment they hit any kind of snag, they give up because they feel disappointed in themselves and in their story. And because of this, expecting to write a good story on the first try is the fastest way to fail.

Now, here’s a caveat -- this doesn’t mean that your first draft has to be a total disaster. You can write a more efficient, better quality first draft if you do some strategic thinking and planning upfront. Here's a link to an article that talks about five questions to ask before writing a first draft -- doing this kind of work will set you up to write the most efficient first draft possible, but it’s still not going to be perfect. 

And that’s because practice is what makes perfect, not first tries. And not first drafts.

So, what does all of this mean? How do you put this into practice?

How to Put This into Practice

First, you need to shift your mindset and allow for things to be a bit messy -- remember, they’re supposed to be! If you go into the drafting process knowing that you’re just figuring things out and that whatever you come up with WILL require revisions, it’s going to be so much easier for you to succeed.

Now, let me tell you about something I see a lot of writers do that I really want you to avoid doing as you write your first draft… I want to make this actionable because I know it can sometimes be hard to take the “mindset stuff” and apply it to your work, right?

A lot of the writers I work with try to do too many things at once. They try to write and revise at the same time. They try to discover the story and perfect the story simultaneously. 

And my advice is always, "don't do that!" It’s not possible to write and edit at the same time. If you try to do it, you’ll get trapped in a never-ending loop of rewriting and second-guessing and you’ll never get to ‘The End.’

Think about it this way…

how can you perfect something that you haven’t seen in its entirety? How can you decorate a cake and make it all pretty and perfect if you haven’t even finished baking it yet? The answer is that you can’t. You have to wait until you’re finished.

It's the same thing with writing. You have to get to know your story first. You have to get it all down on paper and then worry about cleaning things up later. 

You can certainly do this with an outline or with one of those plotting methods I mentioned earlier, but you still need to allow that first draft to be about getting the story down first before going back to revise.

In fact, I encourage every writer I work with to move through their first drafts as quickly as possible. Yes, we allow for course corrections, or for new ideas to pop up, but we rarely ever go backward. Instead, we incorporate the changes or new ideas into the story as we go forward. And that’s something you can do, too. 

The #1 Reason Why So Many Novels Go Unfinished | Savannah Gilbo - Did you know 97% of people who try to write a book never finish? In this blog post and podcast episode, I'm talking about the #1 reason why so many novels go unfinished, and what you can do to avoid being a part of this statistic. Other writing tips included, too! #amwriting #writingtips #writingcommunity

Final Thoughts

So, embrace the process. Know that your first draft will probably be a bit messy. Focus on getting the story down first so that you have something to revise later.

Then, when it’s time to revise, you can worry about what’s good, what can be improved upon, what goes in what order, and what you can keep, and what you can delete.

The faster you can get in this mode of knowing things won’t be perfect, and getting the story down on paper before revising, the more of an efficient and effective writer you will become. 

And look, I’ll be honest -- it’s probably not going to feel easy at first. But every day that you can practice these mindset shifts, they’ll be more ingrained in your mind and you won’t have to think about them so much. They’ll just be a part of you and a part of how you approach the writing process. 

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Are you letting perfectionism stand in the way of accomplishing your writing goals? How can you take one step (today) toward finishing your project, even if that step isn't perfect?

Savannah is a developmental editor and book coach who helps fiction authors write, edit, and publish stories that work. She also hosts the top-rated Fiction Writing Made Easy podcast full of actionable advice that you can put into practice right away. Click here to learn more →