Writing Rule #1: Finish What You Start

Finish what you start

No matter how brilliant you are, you can’t build a creative career on unfinished work.

Yesterday I spent three hours helping my three-year-old son with his preschool reading exercise. The task, which includes sorting and assisted reading, should have taken twenty or thirty minutes, but my son has this frustrating habit of, well, quitting.

I had discussed this issue with his teachers the day before. He fidgets and daydreams, refusing to focus on the task at hand. I’ve noticed similar behavior when we work with an educational app, which allows users to “level up” after six or seven correct answers. He invariably switches activities before reaching the goal, losing all progress.

After a few attempts, we worked our way through almost all of the word cards. We were only three cards away from finishing when he refused to continue. He said he was tired, even though he had just woken up from a nap. He spouted random answers with no connection to the cards in front of him. I wanted to bang my head against the refrigerator.

Why wouldn’t he stick with the task for a few more minutes and finish?

Like mother, like son . . .

In contemplating these events during my morning pages, I realized that my son and I may not be so different. Sure, I’m an adult, and I generally complete whatever I set out to do, whether it’s to run a 5K or to put away the dishes or to write a client article. I don’t give up at 2.8 miles or leave clean glasses in the dishwasher.

But when it comes to my fiction writing… That’s another story.

It’s a handful of stories, actually. I have at least four short stories in various stages of completion with which I have done nothing in months and, in some cases, years. One of them is possibly even ready for submission.

Then there’s my current novel in progress. The one that I banged out as a crappy 50K draft during NaNoWriMo 2014. The one that I have literally written more than 100K on, spanning three or four drafts. The one that looms ahead of me with no end in sight.

I may be a big girl who knows how to finish what she starts, but this critical trait doesn’t seem to apply to my creative writing, my supposed raison d’être.

Take the next step

So my game plan is this: I’m going to take deep breaths and gently guide my son toward finishing his work, using this experience as a reminder to do the same with my creative projects.

I suspect that forcing myself to finish these shorter projects will provide added motivation to complete this novel draft.

To that end, I’m going to send my completed short story to two writer friends who actually enjoy this particular genre. I’ll incorporate any feedback, and I’ll start the submission process even if they don’t get back to me. Either way, I’ll be moving the story forward to its ultimate conclusion, whatever that may be.

What projects have you left unfinished, and why? What steps can you take today toward completion?



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