F is for Finish

Welcome back to The Author’s Alphabet.  You can read earlier posts here.  Each week, I’ll be posting another letter of the alphabet, selecting a word that starts with that letter, and sharing my view of what that word means to me, as an author.  Then, the fun begins — you get to comment, question, poke, prod, and otherwise get involved with the discussion.

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F is for Finish.

There’s been a lot of talk in the blogosphere the past couple of days about what it means to be a professional writer.  (Boring backstory for those who haven’t followed the chatter:  An author posted a list of ten questions authors should ask themselves, to determine whether they are “professional” writers, and noting that fewer than 8 “yes” answers indicted someone who wasn’t professional.  Several prominent writers posted their answers to the questions, typically saying that they answered one or two questions “yes” but all the others “no.”  For a point of reference, I answered all ten questions “no”.  But writing has been my primary career for the past five years, and a secondary career for ten years before that.  I’ve published seventeen novels, paid the I.R.S. way too much because of those books, and, um, I think I’m a professional by any reasonable measurement.)

Several authors simplified the “professional” test, asking, “Are you paid for your work?”  If yes, you’re a pro.

I think they’re headed in the right direction.  (I’d quibble — if you’re accepting $10 in payment for a short story, I don’t think you’ve proven your professional chops by way of the payment question.)

This series, though, is called the Author’s Alphabet.  Not the Professional Author’s Alphabet.  So I’ll drop the full inquiry into who is professional and I’ll ask, instead, are you an author?

And my first follow up question will be:  Have you finished what you started writing?

No, you don’t have to finish everything.  Every author finds that some ideas don’t pan out.  Or her skill isn’t great enough to master a narrative style at this point in her career.  Or some other new shiny has taken precedence.  There are lots of reasons that individual projects might not be finished.

But have you finished anything?

The only writing class I ever took was taught by Nancy Kress, at the Writers’ Center in Bethesda, MD.  I learned more about writing, in those eight weeks, than in any other eight-week period of my life.  One valuable lesson was conveyed by a classmate, who had been working on the same novel for thirty-five years.

Wait.  Read that again.  THIRTY-FIVE YEARS.

When we read an excerpt for class, several people noted strange things about the story, details that made us think we were viewing an alien culture.  There were sexist observations by various characters.  A lot of people smoked.  They wore clothes that were definitely out of fashion, but they were presented as “present-tense” narrators.  And the writing?  Oh, the writing was stilted and awkward and … constipated.

That student would claim she was an author.  After all, she had devoted more than half her life to writing and re-writing and re-re-writing her magnum opus.

But I would say that she was a dabbler.  A hobbyist.  A fan, of her own work.

She wasn’t an author, because authors have to finish what they start.  (Or table it, and start — and finish — something else.)

So, what do you think?  Should the word “finish” be a vital part of the author’s toolkit?

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F is for Finish — 8 Comments

  1. Pingback: F is for Finish | Mindy Klasky, Author

  2. Mindy, no truer words were ever written, simple and to the point but yes, FINISH is the key, anyone can start something, not everyone can finish what they’ve started.

    • Of course, Brunella, today is one of those days when I haven’t been able to concentrate for longer than 30 seconds, making “finish” a pipe dream 🙂

  3. Not only finish, but then go start something else. The people who finish a work and then won’t begin another until that first novel is published are one-book writers.

    • Yep – great point, Brenda. I’ve broken so many new-writer hearts by telling them that their next book should be in a new world with new characters and a new plot (if they’re planning on pitching the first to traditional publishing…)

  4. There is a writer’s life the painful tug-of-war between needing to finish and needing to give the work enough time — to let yourself think of deeper than cliche and stereotype, if nothing else.

    I had works not ready to go out after a couple of years of work. That’s what the trunk is for. And after working on other novels and mastering the form — with another spell in the trunk — it’s actually on the market now.

    • “Resting” time *is* important — and all too often, it gets lost in the production process. Certainly, traditional publishing’s chaotic schedules tend to curtail the time that many of us need to make sure that our work best represents us. (I remember with horror the transition from writing my first book over three years, to editing, finalizing, and promoting that book while writing the second book, all in one year. And the time pressures are substantially greater these days, when readers expect books more quickly!)

      • Brooding over an almost complete novel, like a hen on an egg, is vital. That’s how all the depth and theme gets worked in. The first draft is fast, just blocking in the big swathes of color and mass. The details you have to go back over and tip in with a fine brush, and this takes time.