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Today we’re looking at the surprising reasons you can’t finish your work in progress.

What holds us back isn’t always what we think, but we can’t fix it until we face it. So, let’s dive in…

Show notes:

  • 00.00 – Introductions
  • 00.40 – Have you done enough research?
  • 02.00 – Getting to know your characters.
  • 05.15 – You’ve gotta know where you’re going.
  • 07.20 – Getting tense.
  • 10.50 – Do you know what your audience are expecting?
  • 15.30 – Stop overthinking!
  • 18.00 – Writing chronologically is overrated.
  • 19.20 – Stop confusing your brain with multitasking.
  • 22.00 – You have permission to make your first draft as terrible as possible.
  • 24.15 – Keep things simple.
  • 26.20 – No one else is going to prioritise your writing for you.
  • 30.00 – Believe in yourself.
  • 32.00 – Proving to yourself that you can do it.

1. Research

If you haven’t researched your novel, do you really know your subject well enough to be able to write about it? It’s not always about researching your specific topic, but also researching around it. For example, when I was writing Hollywood Drama, I researched what life was like for DJs, and also Ibiza, to bring the setting to life. If you haven’t researched the issues enough, you may get too stuck to finish.

When it comes to character creation, researching their backgrounds can be some of the most important research you do. You need to understand the causes and affects of human behaviour. For example, serial killers often start with mummy issues, torturing animals, and pyromania. (This is from MIndhunter, which we’d really recommend.)

Of course, just because someone has these traits, doesn’t mean they’re definitely going to be a serial killer. The guy who researched psychopathy discovered that he shared traits with psychopaths, but as he had a loving childhood, he went on to have healthy relationships.

The fears and loves of characters often come from negative and positive experiences, because everything is new and novel to us. When it’s new, it’s more likely to affect us going forwards than something we’ve done on autopilot a gazillion times. For instance, driving wouldn’t affect someone who’s done it all the time, but getting into a car accident would.

2. Plotting

If you don’t know where you’re going, it’s hard to maintain momentum—in your story and your motivation.

You wouldn’t get into a car without knowing where you’re going. You’d at least know your destination, even if you don’t know what you’ll see along the way. Knowing your end point makes the rest easier to write because you know where the characters end up.

To figure this out, simply ask yourself: where do you want them to be at the end of your story? What’s changed?

3. Tension

Increasing the stakes is important in every genre. If things are too easy fo your character, people get bored. When the character has nothing to lose, the reader has no reason to keep reading.

That’s why fears and flaws are so powerful—they hold your character back. And they humanise them.

When you start too high you don’t really have anywhere to go. Which is when you end up getting stuck. This was common in a lot of mid-2000s TV shows, which had high-stakes premises but fizzled out after the initial fanfare because the writers’ and producers’ didn’t have a long-term plan.

If a character defeats the super big bad at the start of your book, they have nowhere to go. So the stakes get lower. And readers get bored because the moment of highest tension is at the start.

4. Knowing audience expectations for your genre

Without a genre, you have no audience.

Like it or not, people get attached to genres first, then series, then authors.

You have to know the rules of your genre to be able to break them, just the same as you would writing a poem, or baking a cake.

You wouldn’t experiment with the flavours of a cake without understanding the components of it first. Writing is no different.

You need to read you genre to understand it, but also read outside of it, too, as this can make you see things differently to people who only read a handful of genres.

Most importantly, though, you need to analyse what you read. You won’t learn as much about your genre if you read it passively.

5. Overthinking

Over thinking is when you spend more time worrying about words appearing on the page perfectly and not enough time just getting them on the page. This is related to your confidence levels, and often tied to depression and/or anxiety.

It’s common for our fears of doing something to hold us back. But if you want to finish your work in progress, you have to get those words onto the page and not worry about it being perfect. Focus on finishing it, then worry about making it sexy when you edit.

6. Editing as you write

If you edit as you write, you won’t get as many words down. First drafts should be bad—just tell yourself the story. No one else should see your first draft anyway. It’s like showing someone your cake before you’ve put it into the oven. Most people can’t properly judge it because it isn’t finished to the best of your abilities yet.

Good things take time, like baking and books.

7. Over complication

Overcomplicating your idea can become a roadblock if you’re constantly wanting to find out more about your plot, or feel you don’t know your characters enough. Everything from complicated story lines to magic systems to issues for your characters can get in your way.

8. Having time to write

You have to prioritise your writing, because nobody else will. It’s not about finding time, it’s about actively making time.

Most people can make time, even if it’s only 10 minutes. Sometimes that’s more productive than sitting down to write for an hour.

Some people feel they don’t deserve time to write, though, and so they punish themselves by writing less and less.

9. Confidence

You have to believe that you deserve to write. That you are worth it.

Knowing how to build confidence in yourself is hard, but it can be done. If you’re logic-based, like Ellie, you could try reminding yourself you can do it, or looking at similar people who’ve achieved what you want to do.

At the end of the day, you won’t know if you can do something if you don’t try.

Having good friends that believe in you helps, too.

But building confidence takes time. And if you’re filled with anxiety, you need to get over that first, as anxiety is the opposite of confidence. It stops you from putting yourself out there.

The Confidence Code is a great read for anyone looking to improve their confidence. There are some really surprising stats in there.


That’s it! Your 9 reasons that are holding you back from finishing your work in progress. Which ones have you struggled with in the past? Why not share your experience in the comments, and help future writers who are having issues?

9 reasons you can't finish your work in progress