This is an excellent question, but the answer for a writer should be a very small number. Successful writers finish what they start, even if it takes years to get there.
Elizabeth Bishop worked on her poem "The Moose" for a record 20 years. She began the poem by writing a few lines, using a push-pin to tack them up on the door to her kitchen, and then would pop by to write some more days later. 20 years later she had a fantastic poem that is probably one of the greatest poems written about the journey of life in American history.
I have 5 practical methods for finishing a writing project. Here they are:
- Set Reasonable Goals - If you read this blog often, you know that I don't do much without a plan. As an indie writer/publisher, I get to set my own deadlines, and I know what I am capable of doing and how long it takes me to do it. I do not have any illusions about it. I set a goal to finish one novel per year, and so far I have done that to a reasonable degree. I have a day job, but have the summers "off" as a teacher, and utilize this time well. I also compartmentalize my time after school and on weekends. However, my goals are reasonable and not unrealistic. If you set reasonable goals, you will be more likely to meet those goals.
- Find an Accountability Partner - I have people in my life who are always encouraging me to finish the next book, whether that be readers who want a sequel or people who just like to read my stuff or even people who don't read my stuff but like to see me get it done. Some people admire you for writing a novel, which is in itself a huge task. A novel is defined as anything over 50,000 words, which to most people is very daunting. People in your life who encourage you to press on and finish (especially your proof readers) are the best encouragement to finish a project. If nothing else, announce on your blog the release date for your next novel. Speaking from experience, that will kick you in the pants for sure.
- A Segment At A Time - So you have decided to write a novel. Great. You will probably bog down in the middle or have trouble at least reaching the third act. Divide the project up into chunks that you will complete by deadlines that you set for yourself. I did this with This Broken Earth in that I first announced a release date and then had to get each of the three sections done at each release date. You may not announce a release date, but at least say to yourself "I'm going to get chapter such and such done this week."
- More Than You Can Chew - One warning is that if you have never written a multi-part epic, don't dive right in with this first. Start by writing a stand alone novella. The first long form novel I wrote (not counting my sophomoric effort as a sophomore in high school) was a novella that was simply a test to see if I could do it and do it well. I wrote Taking Down the Ladder, which was a weird title, I know, but I learned a lot about writing a novel from writing that novella. When I wrote The Transgression Box, I was still being a bit pretentious, writing an allegory of American Christianity, but I learned even more about the writing process and about self-publishing. Next I wrote This Broken Earth, which was three times the length of the novel before it, and was my effort at a sweeping epic tale. Funny that my latest offering Come Apart (soon to be released) is much shorter and compact, combining what I learned from the previous three books. By starting slow I learned to do just what I was capable of doing and didn't get burned out on the process.
- Reward Yourself - I have said this in other posts, but it rings true always. I find that looking forward to some type of diversion after completing a project is paramount to finishing that project on time. I don't just reward myself for finishing the entire project. I reward myself when I finish those little segments of the whole. It is highly important to do something that not only takes your mind off of the novel you are working on, but that gives your mind a chance to escape. It should be something positive, something that you love to do, something that gives you joy. I usually see a film, take my kids out to eat or go hang out with my prop building friends.
So now it is up to you, dear reader. What is it that you do to complete the deadline? If you have been slacking, if you have not been working hard, then stop reading this now and get busy. That novel will not write itself!