Tuesday 5 April 2011


I've just had an article posted on Fuel Your Writing about why you might find it difficult to finish a project before you crack on with a new one. If you follow writers on Twitter, or read their blogs, you'll probably see a lot of mentions of "Have new idea for a project! Should I work on that, or stick to WIP?" or something similar.

Finishing a novel, or a short story, or any kind of creative project, requires a certain element of commitment to the project as a whole. The project may need you to spend a long period of time with your attention focussed on that one thing - it's hardly surprising your creative mind starts to wander, and terrified of stagnation, it starts trying to distract you. You're like the Lothario who thought he'd been finally tamed by the buxom brunette from the tavern by the beach, only to find himself eyeing up the local ladies after a few months of passion with his paramour. You want to stay faithful, really, you do, but those new ideas are just so exciting!

I tend to find that when I'm working on one particular project, I'll indulge in short but sweet side projects. So I might be working on a novella or a serial, but I'll still write my weekly Friday flash, or blog posts. They're such small projects that they're hardly projects at all, and doing them means I get to pay scant attention to the smaller ideas while keeping myself focussed on the larger idea of the work in progress.

Having said that, the Fuel Your Writing post does contain one particular point that comes from extremely personal experience. That point is the third reason why people may find it difficult to finish a project.

I'm scared. If I never finish writing it, or I never make all of the changes to the draft, then it'll always have the potential to be amazing. If I do finish it, then it loses that potential and just becomes a 'thing' I've done. It might not live up to expectation.

As some of you may know, lately I've been working on a novella, The Guns of Retribution. It's a Western, and clocks in a couple of hundred words shy of 30,000. I've had my trusted and highly valued beta readers give it the once over, and now I've made my changes based on their feedback, I'm pretty pleased with it. Having said that, for the few days before I actually finished it, I kept finding reasons not to make the changes. I told myself I "didn't want to ruin it" but when I really stopped to think about it, I realised that I didn't want to finish it. The moment I did, it wouldn't be a "work in progress" with the potential to be the book I had in my head. It would be done (or as done as it can be until I get feedback from "higher up").

What a stupid way of looking at it! Rather than being grateful for being able to tell the story, and excited by the prospect of having it finished and getting it out there, I was worried that it would fall short of both my expectations, and everyone else's. I was sabotaging my own efforts! Of course, with the novella as a work in progress, any flaws can be smoothed out, and I can always tell myself it can be improved. With my novella finished, I have to stand behind it and say "Yes, I did this."

Well you know what? I do stand behind it, and I'm damn proud to say I did it.


Anonymous said...

Yes, I have that very same fear. I think it strikes me with publishing more than with finishing books, since I've finished a lot of them.

I remember when I was finishing my PhD thesis I went through all the same emotions, and withheld and withheld from submitting because I was terrified of what would happen when I actually finished.

I think it's something we all go through to some extent, and might be just part of the process of creating something that really means something to us.

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah, I am like that as well. I have this fear of finishing the final drafo of my novel, part of me keeps getting distracted, doing other things. However, I know I've got something very cool, but I suppose the next step involves querying for agents and I know there will be the inevitable rejections, which I fear, though I know I should persevere (did I just rhyme? think I did lol)

Anonymous said...

ACK, final DRAFT, not drafo...



Author said...

Good for you! Congratulations - that's a great title, too.

I can identify so much with what you have said here - absolutely spot on. I'm now going to have one last read through a short story I've been tinkering with, then I'm going to print it off and take it to the Post Office to submit it. It's time to let it go and see what happens. :)

Monica Marier said...

Great that you finished! And yes, the unchangable past is always cring-i-fying. Making anything permanent is enough to make one want to scream. I wonder if it gets better down the road? Wish I knew

Icy Sedgwick said...

Joely - I think we would be worried if we didn't care about it. If we rushed it or just handed it out willy nilly then we wouldn't be putting our best into it.

Alannah - I think you have to be realistic, but also let the best case scenario spur you on!

Julie - Let me know how you get on with it!

Monica - I sodding hope so!! I bet Joe Konrath doesn't feel like this...

John Wiswell said...

I've gotten to the point in my writing life where I know when I've screwed up an opportunity. If I lollygag, cleaning the house, running errands or worse, entertaining myself with books and games, eventually the enthusiasm for an idea wears off. It would have been a perfectly good story had I jumped in sooner. The most common indicator is when another idea eclipses the old, half-finished one. I try to keep myself honest and on-task.

Good luck on Guns of Retribution!

Reginald Golding said...

This really hits home for alot of us I think. It helps me tremendously to look at others that have completed works and use them as the example or role model. Helps me, too, to mix it up. I've got the big WIP manuscript drafting, meanwhile I'm doing short stories set in the same world. I get the best of little finishes as well as staying on the big project in the long run.

Anonymous said...

This post hit home for me too. I have had dozens of wonderful ideas for years, but unless it's a short story, I rarely finish. You've nailed the why here. Many thanks.


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