You have to finish what you start. Writers write, yes…but writers also must FINISH writing, and get their work out into the world. This can be really tough the first few go-arounds. Talk about new fears! Like you needed new ones!?!
I always have my eyes on my next publication — that is getting my work out, to me. For some, this will be submitting to magazines or publishers. (Please don’t say it’s agents, or you’ll make me cry.) Since I indie publish, I am always working toward that next time I can hit the ‘publish’ button.
Driving toward deadlines
I have a writing schedule that stretches out years into the future. I’ve mentioned this before. I have a lot of ideas, and sometimes they don’t want to get neatly into line, they want to flurry all over the place and try to keep me busy writing multiple stories at the same time. I use the schedule to force them into line and determine where to spend the bulk of my writing time. I also let myself spend some of my writing time goofing off on *bright and shiny* or working on a background project that I suddenly feel passion toward.
Attached to the schedule are deadlines for when I think I can get a book done. These aren’t hard and fast for me. I’m just not willing to feel guilt about being a little late compared to my ambitious goals (and with a family and job to worry about, too). I like to set ambitious goals — I believe it makes me more productive overall, even if it means that I am often late on my own deadlines. This is a matter of getting to know yourself. Because while I set a deadline, I know it isn’t a TRUE deadline, so I always know I’ll be a little later than that.
It works for me, to keep me moving as quick as I can manage without driving my family crazy (I’ll be talking more about that in a post in a couple of weeks).
So, I tend to know which book will be published next in each series, which short story will be finished and published next, and which work for my pseudonym will be published next. This gives me enough variety to have fun with, and I’m never stuck on all of the projects at once. I just keep everything rolling toward that next publication.
Knowing when to call it done
Another part of finishing what you start is knowing when to call a work done. This takes a lot of practice, folks. You’ll spend your first years looking at your work and wishing it truly represented what was in your mind as you wrote it. You’ll want to be better, and you’ll worry that if you can’t make THIS story as good as you want it to be, you can’t make ANY story as great as you want.
Don’t spend too long hung up here. There’s no secret formula, but here’s something that works for me: I understand that I cannot see my work clearly. Being the critic of my work means I won’t finish and move on, won’t practice, won’t get better at storytelling…and that I’ll eventually go nuts with it and probably stop writing.
Many, many writers get lost in this very maze. Don’t let it happen to you. If you finish a story or book and don’t like it well enough to publish it, well….okay. But don’t let it stop you from moving on to the next book, and the next. That’s the way you’ll start to grow into the writer you want to become. Always assume your best work is far in the future, and move toward it each and every day. That’s the writer life. It doesn’t have to be miserable. It does take patience. And it takes finishing and letting go.
You have to let your work go. You have to move on.
Trusting your work, and moving on
Figure out what sort of process you’ll need to go through mentally to remove yourself from each book as it is completed. I believe this is different for all writers, and it’s a matter of practice to get this “detachment” down. We get really into what we’re working on. We crave it, we see it in our mind’s eye, we press it down onto the page in black ink — so stark and staring…did we get there? We can’t know, not with our own work. Listen to your readers so that you can grow as a storyteller with your next stories — but don’t focus on trying to revise and rework stories to fit every reader opinion you hear.
Move on. Invest yourself in the next book. Let yourself feel it and be moved THERE…and don’t spend much, if any, time looking back. Finish, trust it is done, give yourself a pat on the back, unleash your creation on the world, and move on.
A final note
You’re not going to finish EVERYTHING you start. I know that I won’t. Sometimes I start a story goofing off, and a few thousand in it just doesn’t work for some reason, or I completely lose interest. That’s okay; it’s part of my process, and I know enough about the way I work now to understand that I can’t get attached to every single idea that pops into my head. That’s why the key, for me, is to be focused on what projects, major and minor, I’m finishing next. What is next in line? What am I finishing next, what are the steps I need to complete to do so, and when do I think I can manage it by?
Keep on moving! Happy writing, people!
For a full list of Own Your Writing Career posts in the order they were written, visit my Writers page. I’ll be back with another Own Your Writing Career post next Thursday. Until then, happy writing!!
“Own Your Writing Career: Finish What You Start” copyright © 2015 by J.R. Pearse Nelson