Monday, March 16, 2009

Finishing School

Today I'm going to talk about finishing a project.

First off, I'm not talking about those writers who write multiple projects at a time and always have the stovetop and oven filled with stories/articles in progress. And you sell these. I can handle two or three writing projects at a time, but some of you might have a dozen or more going at once, which would send me screaming into the night. But more power to you.

No, I'm talking about those writers who have boxes filled with half-completed manuscripts, two paragraphs of a hundred short stories, notes for magazine articles. And those writers who rewrite the same story for years and never move on to anything else because "it's not finished yet."

I'm not a psychologist, but there's most likely an underlying cause for this type of behavior. Whether it's fear of failure or success, or maybe a souped-up desire for perfection, or something else, I don't know. And it's probably different for everyone. But to have any chance of success in publishing, you must have a product to sell. You don't have a product if your work is left undone.
So how can you finish it? I don't have a magic answer for you. This is one problem I don't have. In fact, the closer I get to the end, the harder I work to complete it. I can't stand to leave anything unfinished. Maybe we should do lunch!

Deep down, I believe the answer lies within yourself. You need to want to finish it, and that need should be at the top of your priority list. But if you can't get to this point, I have some suggestions that may help you to trick yourself into at least getting a little further along. I missed the nurturing gene, so bear with me.

Forget trying to be perfect. None of us are. Not even you. Ask your spouse. Or your cat. Or any editor. When you find yourself nitpicking on the 40th pass, YOU ARE DONE.

You have a premise? A character? Nothing else? Page after page of these in that box? Grab two or three of those. Put them together. See what happens. Maybe you get a page instead of two paragraphs. Tomorrow, pick up two or three more. See what happens. After a week, see if you have something resembling a story. Or at least a good beginning to one.

Doing the research and interviews is fun? Putting it together is a bore? Grow up. Life isn't always fun. If you want others to read about all the fun stuff you found out, you need to make it into an article. No one will come knocking on your door asking what you learned today. If you want to share, put in your I-Pod earbuds and pretend you're seeing the information for the first time. Spend a few hours in Boreville writing the best article you can.

For half-finished manuscripts, start from the beginning and read. Keep a notepad handy. Fill it up. By the time you get to the stopping point, you should have a gazillion ideas about how to proceed. If it was worth keeping, it's worth working on. If you finish it, you can edit it. If you reach the stopping point and you're ready to gag and your notepad is empty, toss it with the trash. If you keep it work on it. If you're not going to work on it, throw it away because it's taking up space and nothing else.

I guess the bottom line is: Get tough with yourself.

You're a grown up. You can handle it.

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Today's Bonus (don't expect one every day):
Robert Gregory Browne writes about "Creating Characters that Jump Off the Page" here at The Kill Zone. All I can say is . . . what he said.

4 comments:

Michael Bracken said...

A dozen or more concurrent projects? No problem. With multiple personality disorder--and every personality a writer--it's easy to keep multiple projects on track. Of course, it's more difficult to keep all the personalities from conflicting...

Jan Christensen said...

Does it count if you have multiple projects, some years and years old, but you finish and actually submit some of the others until they're published? I don't have a fear of success or failure; I sometimes have the deep-down conviction that I will fail. There's probably a syndrome for my malady--I frequently carry on anyway. Terribly perverse!

Carol Kilgore said...

Michael, send those personalities to anger management class and to group therapy.

Carol Kilgore said...

Jan, keep going with the new stuff but pull out something old every once in a while and see what to do with it.

To paraphrase:
Something old
Something new
Never borrow
And you won't be blue.