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[process] Some home truths on finishing what you start - Lakeshore
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Jay Lake
Date: 2012-01-02 07:55
Subject: [process] Some home truths on finishing what you start
Security: Public
Tags:cancer, health, personal, process, writing
A thing I hear reasonably often from aspiring writers, and occasionally from established writers, goes somewhat like this: "I was working on this novel, when I had a better idea that caught my attention, so I quit after 40,000 words." Often this is followed by: "I have seven unfinished novels." Or however many. And optionally by: "I don't understand why I can never get anything to market."

I have to say people, finish what you start. There's always a shinier idea somewhere ready to come along and grab you by the shoulder. That's the nature of our imaginations, and it's a normal part of writing avoidance.

Look at me, now, with a 600,000 word project on my desk of which I've written 200,000 words only to be interrupted by chemotherapy. How could I possibly manage such a project if every neat idea I had in the mean time interrupted me?

Furthermore, if you don't finish what you start, you've got nothing to sell. Six or eight or ten unfinished novels are worth less than one finished novel. Heck, an infinite number of unfinished novels are worth less than one finished novel. If you don't have the discipline to follow through an idea when the middle gets muddled and draggy and boring (and they all do that when you're in the middle of writing a novel), you don't have the discipline to be an author.

I've written through parenting crisis, emotional disasters, mental stress and distress including anxiety and depression, busy times at work, illness, you name it. In the eleven years since I became a pro, chemotherapy and surgery are the only things that have been able to stop me cold, and believe me, if I could find a way around that, I would. There are no excuses except the ones you make up for yourself. Even with chemotherapy and surgery these past two years, I've managed about 250,000 words of first draft each year.

If you want to be an author, finish the project. Then write the next project. Being a pro is that simple, and it's that hard.

What is it that stops you from writing?

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Nicosian: frogstack
User: nicosian
Date: 2012-01-02 16:03 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:frogstack
Its exactly what I'm doing now.

( ok, massive life upheaval stalled the novel i'm working on, for about 7 years: 3 miscarriages, 2 long distance moves, university.)

Truth: I started writing it from scratch in april when I was in the Netherlands. My internet went out and I didn't want to navigate narrow little stairs in a dark house with a dark yard, to go reset the router.:D

I've had other ideas, and they can sit and wait till this gets done, this time. I believe if I get this done I'll finally stop misplacing my celphone, my keys, my transit pass....

Edited at 2012-01-02 04:04 pm (UTC)
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Keikaimalu
User: keikaimalu
Date: 2012-01-02 16:29 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I'm not convinced it's all about discipline; I think it's partly about having the right tools in your toolbox.

I haven't sold any novels yet, but I've completed drafts of 7, of which I've brought 4 to a finished, publishable state (by my own standards). I have probably a dozen that I've started and stopped.

When I try to figure out why I finish some and not others, I realize that the issues are more structural than willpower-related. The 7 I finished, I knew how to finish. The others -- I got bogged down because I couldn't find my way through to the end.

So I've been making a study of story structure (short-form and novel), to add enough tools to my writerly toolbox that I don't end up trying to use a butter-knife when nothing but a screwdriver will do.
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kellymccullough
User: kellymccullough
Date: 2012-01-02 17:27 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I think this one is a bit of an oversimplification. You absolutely must finish some of what you write, but finishing everything is not a necessary precondition to a successful career. Sometimes, the reason a writer walks away from a piece is that they don't have the tools to finish it, or because the idea has turned out to not be a very good one.

I've got something like a hundred short stories in one stage of incomplete or another, but also 50 or 60 finished, about half of which were published. I've got at least a dozen unfinished novels and 17 complete ones with 8 of those in print or forthcoming and 7 out on submission.

I know at least 3 writers who ended up not writing anything for months because they were stuck on something and had been drilled to believe you can't walk away from a piece who then went on to start something else and finish it. If you don't finish anything, you're not going anywhere, period. At the same time, not being able to walk away from a story that's not going anywhere can be a great recipe for not writing.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2012-01-02 17:33 (UTC)
Subject:
Well, everyone is different. But I suspect the number of pieces unfinished due to shiny distraction (ie, lack of discipline) is a significant factor, even compared to the number of pieces unfinished due to technique reasons.

And to be clear, I have one major unfinished novel that's been on my desk for the better part of the last decade, for exactly the reason you describe. (It's Original Destiny, Manifest Sin.) At that time, I didn't have the professional tools to finish what I started back around 2004. But I didn't abandon that novel because I had a better idea — which, you'll note, is specifically the issue I address in the post — I set it aside until my professional development as a writer let me come back to it. And ODMS is the next novel on my writing schedule after I wrap the Sunspin cycle.
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Adam Israel: I'm here because you broke something
User: stonetable
Date: 2012-01-02 17:35 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:I'm here because you broke something
I've mostly finished the first draft of every short story I've started but where I fall down is in picking them back up for revision. That's been the hard part for me, and the thing I really need to get into the habit of doing this year.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2012-01-02 17:43 (UTC)
Subject:
There's another rant for another time, but honestly, if you don't finish the drafts, you have nothing to revise, so good for you.

By way of (hopefully) encouraging you: Revision is a separate art from drafting, and one that I have always found more challenging and less emotionally rewarding. The single most salient aspect of my journey as a writer over the past 21 years has been learning to (a) revise with even mild competence and (b) to find sufficient joy in that process to boost my motivation. Stick to it, it will come.
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MG Ellington
User: xjenavivex
Date: 2012-01-02 17:41 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Thank you, Jay.
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Starshadow
User: arielstarshadow
Date: 2012-01-02 18:27 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Honestly, what usually gets me is that I feel like my writing is spot-on for the first chapter or so, and then it just feels like the overall quality of the words I'm putting on the page drops after that until I reach a point where I'm sure it's all drivel and horrible and banal.
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cathshaffer
User: cathshaffer
Date: 2012-01-02 19:44 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
This is very normal. It's just your writer brain playing tricks on you. Don't let it stop you.
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Angel
User: valarltd
Date: 2012-01-02 18:35 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Thank you. I have friends who are "oh, I can't write, my husband is on the road." "I can't write, my mom's in the hospital." "I can't write, I'm blocked." blah blah blah,

My daughter spent almost a year in a psych hospital. I was driving a semi long distance. And I still wrote.

My mother is dying of leukemia. I'm still writing.

If you are a writer, you will write if it means doing it with tongue-tip on the inside of your cheek while in solitary and a strait jacket.
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cathshaffer
User: cathshaffer
Date: 2012-01-02 19:52 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
First of all, I'm very, very sorry for your difficulties, and I'm glad you've been able to keep writing. However, a major life crisis is a totally different thing from being distracted by a new idea. For many people in situations like yours, the time/energy matrix simply doesn't accommodate writing. Many pro writers I know, including bestselling SF/F writers, have taken time off from their careers in order to take care of family business, and that's fine.
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jackwilliambell
User: jackwilliambell
Date: 2012-01-02 20:43 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
[Hangs head]

Yes Sensei...
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Danny Adams
User: madwriter
Date: 2012-01-02 21:23 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
While I've always been grateful that writing has gotten me through some pretty hard and depressing times, the irony is that what stops me are really happy times. I don't mean long consistent happy periods, but things like visiting rarely-seen friends, holidays spent with family members, and so on.
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User: mmegaera
Date: 2012-01-03 03:29 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
This. In spades.
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magicalbookworm
User: magicalbookworm
Date: 2012-01-03 00:06 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
For me - it's feedback. Why write when I know I can't get anyone from any of the handful of Crit groups I belong to read anything I've written. I would love to be able to move past the idea of someone critting my work, but I know I need that extra set of eyes to go through the writting and point out things that don't work.
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User: mmegaera
Date: 2012-01-03 03:30 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
This in spades, too.

What I want is one of those mythical Beta Readers [g].
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Lupa
User: lupagreenwolf
Date: 2012-01-03 05:43 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
This. Sooooo this. I'm very good at staying focused on one writing project at a time, even if I have half a dozen others biting at my heels the whole time.
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Shalanna: calvin with hobbes
User: shalanna
Date: 2012-01-03 05:48 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:calvin with hobbes
What is it that stops me from writing?

That nobody cares. My mother doesn't read fiction. My husband only reads software manuals and that certain subgenre of fantasy that I call "bricks" (the long series of books concerning battles, royalty, court intrigue, and so forth). I've finally given up on traditional publishing because of all the time I've wasted on it (years of agents calling me and suggesting specific revisions, and then not being signed by those agents after the revisions, even though they often said that they still love the story and the writing--it's just not something they feel they can sell now, or they don't love it enough, or whatever). I've put several books out on the Kindle, but I don't have any way to promote them.

I don't know why I don't just STOP entirely. I do take breaks when I get too depressed. But then I always feel a pull back to the blank page. I'll be completing a revision/polish of MIRANDA'S RIGHTS (a witchy modern fantasy) and another book that is a romantic suspense, just because I want to read them when they're finished (I write what I like to read, which is the major problem--in general, I don't like the sorts of books that are blockbusters today). Then I'll put them on the Kindle and take them to CreateSpace for print editions. Then I'll download the Kindle editions and order a couple of print copies for myself. Then I'll put them on the shelf at the end of the bed. I'm not a good promoter, and I hate it when people blather on about their books like some Amway distributor with no boundaries.

I don't have a problem finishing a novel (and then letting it sit, and then revising, and then getting some poor beta reader, and then revising and polishing again, and then waiting for the rejecting to start). It's just that I often wonder . . . what's the point? What's the point in doing it? Nobody cares. I only do it for my own satisfaction these days, having given up on my work ever appealing to others.

It's like my piano playing. Some days it gives me great satisfaction. Other times, I wonder, why do I try? Nobody wants to hear the piano. My family hates the sound of it. I get stage fright when people are watching, anyway. What's the point? Who wants to hear me play old standards by ear? Who CARES about Mozart? Very few people today, I can assure you. Outside of the conservatory, at least.

And I'll never be invited to play in a conservatory, that's for sure.

I don't know . . . it's not apathy on MY part, but discouragement because of the lack of interest on everyone else's. That's what stops me.

It just doesn't keep me stopped. Because I'm an idiot who still insists on Believing. Don't know how much longer that will last. If it would end, my life would be so much easier!

Oops. I think you wanted a reasonable answer such as, "I have a day job," or "My family takes up all my time." Sorry about that, Chief.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2012-01-03 13:36 (UTC)
Subject:
Speaking as someone who wrote and submitted constantly for a decade before publishing word one, I do get this.
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