Ramblings on Writing - The Importance of Finishing

on Saturday, June 12, 2010

Ramblings on Writing - The Importance of Finishing
June 12, 2010

This week really is a rambling, where I have decided to just spew whatever nonsense I can think of about this topic, which I am a firm believer in. This is also a problem most first-time writers suffer, and many not-first-time writers (myself included) also have issues with. 

Let's jump into a scenario, shall we?

So you got the best idea for a book ever. You have a brilliant magic system, an unforgettable set of plot twists, a fantastic world, and characters you'd die for. This is the perfect fantasy story, one that's going to make you a rich author and allow you to buy a sweet skateboard and jump from a helicopter on the skateboard and ramp off the Grand Canyon while drinking Mountain Dew. Essentially, all your dreams are going to come true with this book. 

You make the file, pick a snazzy font for your title page, and start writing. Things are just really going good for you about 30k words in: this is epic

But sometime along the way things start to bother you. Your writing group points out problems in earlier chapters, issues that can't be addressed without rewriting entire sections. Your characters aren't acting the way they want to. Worst of all, they are in the most boring situation ever. Think Council of Elrond, only times infinity. This book really isn't flowing well.

Not to mention, while writing it, you got another idea for an even better book! You don't really know what you saw in this one, to be honest. It was just a warm-up, a test run for this next great novel. So what do you do? You leave your first great idea, which was clearly a complete screw-up anyway, and move to the next one.

Do this about twenty times, and you have the average first-time novelist. And sometimes the "latest and greatest" idea isn't even a new book; sometimes it's the same story, just altered, so you start over. It's now been several years and you have about ten unfinished files sitting on your computer, all teetering between the 20-50k word mark, all "horrible abominations."

Well, you are the psychologically disturbed soccer-mom, and I'm your Dr. Phil. And, like that balding tv-star, I am going to tell you something you aren't going to like. 

You need to get off your butt, and finish a novel. No matter what. You have to finish this, before you can start anything else. And that is final. 

Writing a novel to the average person seems like the simplest thing ever. Truthfully, probably everybody has at least one fantastic idea that they'd love to see novelized, something they've thought about for years. Often times when I tell people my goal in life is to write, they give me a smug little smile and a nod, saying something like "Oh yeah, I wrote a book in fifth grade. But good luck with that, I'm sure you'll do great!" The point is, everybody thinks they can write a novel. In fact, many people can write some pretty decent outlines, and even a few first chapters. However, very few people actually finish a novel. Isn't the statistic something like 99% of people who start novels never finish them? It's that 1% that perseveres and actually gets something done.

So, here is me telling you this: If you are reading this blog and plan on (or are currently) writing a book, you are now set in stone to finish this novel no matter what, because you read this and I'm using unrighteous dominion over you. If you ever want to be successful, or ever want a real author to take you seriously in the slightest degree, you absolutely have to finish something. And that something is what you are writing right now, because like I said before, I'm Dr. Phil and you have to do what I say. 

Now that I've lassoed you into doing something you probably will just ignore anyway, here are some perks to finishing a novel that might pique your interest and actually get you to see it to completion. 

- The first novel is always the hardest. After that, it becomes much easier. You'd think it wouldn't, but it most certainly does. 
- The sense of accomplishment is staggering. You'll be walking on air for weeks. 
- You can finally say, "oh yes, I've written an 'x' word novel. Let me tell you about it," to prospective agents/editors/in-laws wondering what you are doing with your life. 
- Professional authors get stuck, too. Ask any of them; they'll all say the same thing: they hated their book at some point and wanted to drop it. The difference between them and you is they pushed through and finished. Also, they are published and make money off their hobby, which you currently do not (don't worry, I'm in this class as well)
- Your relatives and in-laws might start taking your prospective career more seriously. They also might read what you wrote, which is both fantastic and terrifying

And here are some slightly-less encouraging comments that authors always bring up in panels about this topic, and don't realize exactly how semi-depressing they are because they are published and so don't have to worry about it.

- Your first book, despite loving it to death, probably won't be the novel you sell. In fact, it'll probably be the novel you bury and hope nobody ever finds a few months down the road.
- It's said your first million words are "practice" (which is a nice way of saying they are crap). In case you are wondering, I'm on my fifth full-length novel and have just crossed the 500k mark. So it takes a while.
- Your second novel will be leaps and bounds ahead of your first. The same goes for the third, fourth, and fifth (unless you are Dan Brown or Stephanie Meyer. Ha ha! Zinger!)

And, a few more nice ones.

- The stuff you learn writing your first novel will lay the foundation for all future works.
- If you can complete one novel, you can complete ten. Of this I am completely certain. (on the opposite end, if you can't complete one, well...you can't complete one. You can start ten and leave them to die, though)
- The first novel you finish you'll remember for the rest of your life. If you are like me, you'll also remember the last sentence from that first novel. ("I'm going home.", for the record)
- It's just something you have to freaking do, ok? If you don't do it, frankly, you'd better start looking for another job.

Let me just say 100% of what I said above is completely true from either my personal experience or others, and this comes from talking to dozens of authors, both prospective and published.

So, don't wait. Whatever novel you are writing now, you have to finish it. You have to finish it, because you promised way up in paragraph whatever that you would. What's that? You don't remember doing that?

Well I do, and I'm going to hold you to it.


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