How To Finish What You Write

Image result for finishing strong
Nothing beats this feeling.

I think one of the biggest things new writers struggle with is finishing what they start. This was certainly the case for me. Stories, novels,blogging. For a while, my documents folder didn’t have a single story that I could say was finished.

This is both disappointing and frustrating, because you want to get your work out there, but no one wants to read half a story, half a novel, or half a blog post. Incomplete work isn’t really “a work” at all. That would be like if this ended righ—

You get the idea.

I’ve been writing seriously for a couple of years now, and I’ve gotten so much better at this. I can actually sit down and write a story from beginning to end now, usually in just a few days too. Not only that, but I’ve even sold a few too! Imagine that!

How did I get to this point? Here are a few things I’ve learned.

1. Give yourself permission to suck

When you start out, you just don’t know what you’re doing, and that’s OK. You have to give yourself permission to suck, because it’s not always about what comes next in your story, it’s about showing up tomorrow and sucking some more. As long as you keep reading and writing and trudging on even when, especially when it’s tough, you will figure it out. I promise. Eventually, you stop sucking too.

2. It’s important to set commitment goals for yourself, and say “no” to other ideas 

Usually, I have a pretty good idea of how long a story is going to be when I’m finished with it. If I think it’s going to be about two thousand words, I’d like to try to finish it in no less than two days, committing to a thousand words a day. During that time, I don’t work on other things, or at least I try not to. As a creative, it can be really difficult to say “no” to other projects, especially when you’re all jazzed about your new idea. Say NO. Jot down a few notes if you need to and then set it aside. If you’re going to finish anything, you have to be excited about what you’re working on now.

3. Understanding story structure really helps

I highly recommend the book, Structuring Your Novel, by K.M. Weiland. I don’t always know where a story is going to end up when it’s in progress, but with a better understanding of the general structure, I can figure out where I am. Sometimes, knowing where you are (even if you don’t know what’s going to happen) is excellent motivation to finish.

4. I write until I complete my word count for the day

This should be pretty easy to understand, but I’ll spell it out anyway. This means the following:

I DO write.

I DO NOT get on the internet to look up blog posts on writing (Why are you even reading this!?)

I DO (perhaps) plot my story for a little bit and then start writing.

I DO NOT take a picture sitting in front of my laptop with a goofy expression and post it to Instagram. Writers do not post pictures of themselves writing on Instagram or any other form of social media. Ever.

I DO (or at least I might) post a picture to Instagram once I have completed my word count for the day.

I DO NOT complain to my spouse about how hard writing is.

I DO turn off my internet connection, no matter how many angry mobs come about as a result.

I DO NOT go to Starbucks or Barnes and Noble where there are exactly 1,483,586,993,230 distractions so that people can see how much of a writer I am. Stop kidding yourself.

I DO lock myself in my closet where no one can see me, and I write until I have completed my word count.

I DO NOT scroll through countless pages of “mountain images” in Google images and claim that it is “research for my story.”

I DO leave a blank space in my story where the appropriate mountainous descriptions will be inserted later, and I keep writing until I’m finished.

I DO NOT tell myself that I’ll do this later.

I DO it now.

About a year ago, I emailed Ken Liu, author of The Grace of Kings, asking if he had any advice for a new writer like myself. Within an hour, he responded to my email, (sidenote: that’s how you gain a fan), and gave me some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten. Spoiler alert: it’s not sexy.

This is what he said:

I’m afraid that I don’t have brilliant bits of advice to offer. Writing is, for the most part, a grind. You grind against the distractions of the Internet, against the effort it takes to craft a sentence, against the drudgery of the work… and it is work. […]If you talk to different writers, everyone has his or her own approach, and I don’t think there’s a single “best way” that works for everyone. Talk to lots of people and give their methods a whirl, and keep only practices that work for you.

Writing isn’t very glamorous. Finishing is even less so.

But you know what is? One day seeing your finished book sitting on a shelf in that Barnes and Noble you’ve avoided for so long. I can dig that.

Do you have something you’ve struggled to finish? Drop me a line in the comments below and share how you overcame it to finish well!

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2 thoughts on “How To Finish What You Write

  1. Congratulations Millie! I like what Stephen King says about writing a novel: “It’s like crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a bathtub.”

    Keep writing!

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