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I’ve been hearing writers talk about not being able to finish what they start. I think there are a number of reasons why this might be.
Not knowing where the story is going. I understand not outlining—I’m a pantser myself—but I do have a goal in mind with each story. The stories I have in my files that aren’t finished usually either had too vague a goal or started more as a character sketch with no specific problem for that character to solve. The goal is specific to the character and the plot of the story. I usually have in mind how the story might end. Sometimes that changes along the way. How I think my character might win/grow/change might not happen, but he or she does win/grow/change in some way. But I knew where I was headed to begin with.
Not caring enough about the characters and story to continue. Sometimes, I think we start something and then find we don’t care enough about the idea. In other words, the story isn’t inspired by any passion. That passion can be the character himself, the theme of the story, the plot or solution—something that is important to the writer. In these cases, look first for things you are passionate about and build your next story about one or more of those things.
Liking the idea of having written more than writing. Writing is hard. Getting to the end is hard. But if you enjoy the process of writing, writing is worth doing. I like putting words together. The act of writing makes me happy. Sure, I like it when I’m totally done with a piece. But first I have to be pleased to have finished a first draft. Then I like rewriting it to make it better. I take feedback and use it to make the story even better. It’s a process and writers need to be willing to participate in the process.
Writing without having learned the basics. Do you know what is meant by showing versus telling? Character point of view? Third person versus first person? Past and present tense? I’ve spent time learning about these writing basics from classes, books, workshops, and critiques. This gave me the skills so I know how to do the craft.
Writing something you’d never read. If you don’t like reading a particular type of writing, why would you try to write it? It means you aren’t familiar with the basic rules of the genre that any reader knows. Remember, the writer is the first reader of anything she’s written. If the writer can’t please herself, how can she please anyone else?
Fear it won’t be good enough. Of course, it won’t be good enough. Nothing quite matches up to our expectations. But that’s what revision and rewriting are for—to make our writing better, closer to what we want it to be. I love when I go back and read something I’ve written and am surprised by it. In a positive way. Many writers don’t read their published books because they can’t change them anymore.
Talking about the story too much. I love this Chinese proverb, “Talk doesn’t cook rice.” You’ve got to do the writing, not talk about it. For me, if I talk about a story too much before I write it, then the impetus to write it is gone. This isn’t the case for some writers. But consider what would happen if writers spent more time writing the stories than talking about them.
Not committing the time. It takes time to finish a story. It means writing has to be a priority. What will you give up so you can write? TV, Facebook, surfing the net, shopping? It doesn’t mean you can never do these things again, but if there’s no scheduled time for writing, it probably won’t happen.
Starting too big. If you’re having trouble finishing a book, have you tried writing a short story or article? The sense of accomplishment from finishing something smaller is a real encouragement. I learned a lot from writing short stories. And the encouragement of sales helped me keep going with my longer pieces, too.
Unrealistic expectations. Most of us don’t write a book and sell it. We write a number of manuscripts. We learn from the act of doing. We get lots of rejections. We grow in our writing abilities. Ira Glass says, “It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions.”
Some might wonder why I haven’t brought up “writer’s block.” I think writer’s block is caused by many of the reason above. But perhaps it deserves a discussion of its own.
So, if you’re having trouble finishing your writing, do any of these reasons apply to you? Or do you think there are other causes? Comments are welcome.
SM Ford writes inspirational fiction for adults, although teens may find the stories of interest, too. She also loves assisting other writers on their journeys.