Thursday, January 11, 2018

Writing Advice—Finish What You Start

I have a rule that has served me well when writing: I finish what I start. It’s a handy little rubric that turns out completed projects at a tolerable rate.

It’s a simple idea, sounds obvious and easy, but in practice it’s neither.

When churning through a project, writing long novels, there invariably come a few moments when one’s interest in it wanes and it’s like pulling teeth to turn the corner and start another page. This is usually accompanied by the birth of a new idea, a better story, more interesting plot, more exciting quest.

It’s diabolic. To quote Tony Flaner, there’s a pull and a push to a new thing.

But beware noble squire, thus are desk drawers filled with half finished manuscripts and the airs reek of failure.

I’ve written fifteen novels by forcing myself to keep going, at least to the final chapter. One story fought me so hard that I ended at “the end” and never looked at it again, but at least it was done: beginning, middle, and end. 107,000 words, A book.

It had to be done. I had to finish it. It was practice and wordcrafting, time spent on my art, but I had other projects lurking that could sell, that would be lighter, more fun. Songs of the sirens. I stuck to it because if I stopped one story, I could stop them all.

The trick is to turn the hatred of the project into action, bite the bit and gallop to the end. It’s surprising what that kind of motivation can do. It’s like a deadline (which in and of itself is as magical a device for writing as a dictaphone with transcribing house elves).

There’re value judgements that need to be put aside. “The book sucks, I should just stop here and start again. I can do better.” But that’s not the thing. A corollary of the rule answers that concern: you can fix anything but a blank page. Also, completion has a quality all its own.

It’s discipline, but’s also illusionary. I write on “spec,”—speculation. No one is paying me to write. I pen a book and then try to sell it. It’s not the best situation, but at my level it’s the only game in town. With no boss, no real penalty, there’s only my own delusion that tells me that I have to finish and can’t just take the treat I’m holding out any time I want.

You have to be a little insane to be a writer, or any kind of artist really. This is just a symptom of that. It’s a pretend rule, and as an artist, I am well aware that rules are there to be broken. One day I will break it. I’ve bent it. I’ve stopped to write a short story in the middle of a novel and there’re always new edits on old stuff that have to be done, but as for big projects, book length, I’ve never a new one without finishing the old. I’ve never faltered.

It is a made up rule, a pretend law, but it has served me well.

I recommend it to everyone.

Better to have a mediocre finished book than a great fragment, or dozens or them.

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