Writing Nowadays–The Trouble With Finishing

A friend of mine recently told me that she had a number of great ideas and always got a great start on any number of books, but couldn’t seem to finish them.  What, she asked, might be going on and how could she make herself finish writing an actual book?

This problem isn’t unique, or even rare.  This is good, to tell the truth–it means it’s solvable!

The source of the issue can be any number of things, really. Some people are afraid of finishing a project because then they’d “have” to send it out and risk rejection, which is emotionally hard.  Solution?  Don’t finish!  Move on to something else.

Other people get fascinated by an idea, then lose focus or interest when the writing hits a difficult spot, as it always does.  At that point, any new idea that comes along looks easier and/or more fun.  Solution?  Move on to the really cool new idea!  And nothing gets finished. (This was always my problem.  I dropped three different books before I finished my first novel.)

Some people get distracted by real life.  They’re too busy to write–kids, job, TV, housework, the lawn.  The list never ends.

Or the problem might be something else.  You know your subconscious better than I.

So whaddaya do?  How do you make yourself finish?

The most important step is recognizing the problem.  Then you have to decide to solve it.  Like a resolution to exercise more or watch less TV, the solution can only come from within.  You have to decide to write the book.

A few hints that might help:

Once you finish your book, you don’t have to send it out.  It’s yours.  You can do anything you like with it.  Stick it in a drawer.  Endlessly edit.  Read it aloud to your children on your birthday.  Self-publish.  Or even send it to a book publisher.  It’s always your choice.

When that delightful new idea comes along, give yourself permission to jot it down but then get back to the current project.  No matter how tempting the new idea is, you are forbidden to explore it until you finish the current one.  (Use that as an incentive.)  If the new idea is good, it’ll still be good when you’re done. You’ll actually be surprised at how many ideas don’t look as interesting a couple months later anyway, so it’s a fine thing to let it sit.

As for busyness–no one ever has time to write. You have to make it a priority over other stuff. Set aside a certain time slot every day for your writing time and make it inviolable. No phone, no TV, no Internet. Start with 15 minutes or one page. Once you’ve hit your goal, you can quit–or keep going–but tomorrow the goal resets. Give yourself rewards or incentives.  Record your favorite program and tell yourself you can’t watch it until your writing is done. Or say you can’t get on Facebook for the day until writing time is over. If you have a track record of getting stuck and not being able to get going the next day, stop in the middle of a scene, or even the middle of a sentence. (That’s what Hemingway used to do.)

Crack you own whip! Once finishing becomes a habit, it’s hard to break.

–Steven Harper Piziks


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Writing Nowadays–The Trouble With Finishing — 3 Comments

  1. Knitters have a term for this problem. It is ‘startitis’. A knitter with startitis has dozens of projects, knitted three-quarters of the way up the final sleeve, lying around. And because she has nothing to wear, she will cast on another sweater today.
    Solutions abound, but most of them involve just resolving to finish stuff. Even a resolution to finish one project completely, before starting any new project, helps. A yarn diet tends to not be effective, if you have a huge stash.

  2. I have a client who is definitely suffering from the failure fear form of this syndrome. We have finished two novels of a three book set and they’ve been ready for submission for over two years now. He always finds something he has to do first: start another book that will be a better first book for him to open with, rework the two finished novels in light of an article he just read or a thought he just had or a fear he just feared. I’ve tried to get him to acknowledge this fear—face it down and beat it, but no dice. So, I’m waiting to start the process of rewriting another novel while two finished ones sit on my laptop dying to visit a nice agent somewhere.

    My problems with this always seem to stem from me trying to force the characters to do what I think they should do rather than what they actually should do. I find that if I go back and read my draft and stop right where it starts to feel “off”, I can usually clear my head and work my way forward again, this time tossing out the outline in my head and allowing the characters to suggest new directions.

  3. I had this problem in two forms.

    When I could not finish a story, I learned to re-read the stack of half-finished stories and learn why. I recommend that to all and sundry.

    Then to remember to circle back when I lost interest in the work of the moment, and see whether older ones could carry on.

    For novels on the other hand, my problem was that my metier was short, and I had to slowly build up the length I could master.