[process] Some home truths on finishing what you start

A thing I hear reasonably often from aspiring writers, and occasionally from established writers, goes somewhat like this: “I was working on this novel, when I had a better idea that caught my attention, so I quit after 40,000 words.” Often this is followed by: “I have seven unfinished novels.” Or however many. And optionally by: “I don’t understand why I can never get anything to market.”

I have to say people, finish what you start. There’s always a shinier idea somewhere ready to come along and grab you by the shoulder. That’s the nature of our imaginations, and it’s a normal part of writing avoidance.

Look at me, now, with a 600,000 word project on my desk of which I’ve written 200,000 words only to be interrupted by chemotherapy. How could I possibly manage such a project if every neat idea I had in the mean time interrupted me?

Furthermore, if you don’t finish what you start, you’ve got nothing to sell. Six or eight or ten unfinished novels are worth less than one finished novel. Heck, an infinite number of unfinished novels are worth less than one finished novel. If you don’t have the discipline to follow through an idea when the middle gets muddled and draggy and boring (and they all do that when you’re in the middle of writing a novel), you don’t have the discipline to be an author.

I’ve written through parenting crisis, emotional disasters, mental stress and distress including anxiety and depression, busy times at work, illness, you name it. In the eleven years since I became a pro, chemotherapy and surgery are the only things that have been able to stop me cold, and believe me, if I could find a way around that, I would. There are no excuses except the ones you make up for yourself. Even with chemotherapy and surgery these past two years, I’ve managed about 250,000 words of first draft each year.

If you want to be an author, finish the project. Then write the next project. Being a pro is that simple, and it’s that hard.

What is it that stops you from writing?

7 thoughts on “[process] Some home truths on finishing what you start

  1. Alexis says:

    Facebook stops me from writing.

  2. Ken Scholes says:

    “There are no excuses except the ones you make up for yourself.”

    I disagree pretty strongly with this statement. There are LOTS of things in life that can interfere with creative processes. I don’t think those are made up excuses. And sometimes the pressure people put on themselves with that kind of thinking (or let others put on them) can make matters even worse.

    There’s a big difference between someone who hasn’t learned how to finish and someone who is blocked by a major life event like cancer, chemo, depression, anxiety, divorce, losing a job, having a baby, burying a loved one, etc. There are real reasons sometimes that people can not write.

    1. Jay says:

      And see today’s post, where I acknowledge that I overstated myself.

      1. Ken Scholes says:

        Yep…saw it! Well-said, sir.

  3. Life scheduling. Full time job, part time student, part time council job, freelancing, 2 hours worth of commute everyday, and then sleep apnea.

    Fixed the apnea, term of council now expired, so I expect to get back to putting words on the screen in 3… 2… 1… (at least until I do the full time job and full time student thing in 2013).

  4. The odd thing is, I don’t have this problem with stories. But I do with programming. I frequently finish the story I set out to write. But when it comes to personal software projects, I get to the stage where I understand the hard parts, know what it will take to finish the thing… and quit.

    I think part of the reason for that, for me, is the crushing realization that if I do “finish what I started,” it will never end. The only genre of software development where “end of support, please stop bugging me” is acceptable is game development, and I don’t write games.

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