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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3 Reasons Why I Love My Day Job

It’s the dilemma of almost any creative. You have this passion…for something that doesn’t pay well, if you’re lucky. Most cases it doesn’t pay at all. You need to put food on the table, but all you want to do is write, or create beautiful soundscapes, or draw, or paint. So what do you do?

You get a real job.

It’s all right, you think. I’ll just do this to provide for the family and put food on the table until my big break. Until I can do what I love and get paid for it.

The reality is that for most people, this will never happen.

Come on. Nobody wants to hear that, right? (Especially me)! I want to hear the encouraging stories! The stories about the people who did make it. Who are doing what they love and getting paid for it.

Recently, I was watching a documentary about J.K. Rowling and her journey to success with the Harry Potter franchise. In the middle of the show, they had another author speak about her influence…an author I had never heard of, and doubt many other people have either.

That was sobering.

Here’s J.K. Rowling, probably the most commercially successful author of all time, talking about how she broke through, how she won…and then we cut to a guy that, well, didn’t “break through,” and may never. Now, I don’t presume to know anything about this guy, (who knows, he may be a famous author) but for the sake of argument, let us suppose that he still has a day job. He’s a published author, but he gets his writing done early in the morning, or maybe on breaks at work, hammering out notes on his iPhone in the office kitchen. There are no eight hour stretches of writing, save for maybe the weekends, but even then he’s busy doing things with family and friends.

What am I getting at?

That’s actually something to be grateful for. In fact, I can think of three reasons why, right now, I love my day job…and you should too:

1. It forces discipline 

If I don’t have a day job, I can’t guarantee that I get up every morning to write. Having responsibility, having routine – it actually frees up more time for your brain to be more creative! To be better! It’s less time worrying about what you’re going to wear, or when you need to be somewhere, and more time thinking about what your characters are going to do next!

2. It forces me to prioritize

I don’t have eight hours in a day that I can devote to reading, writing, and plotting. I have maybe four. About an hour and a half in the morning, (if I don’t oversleep) and then however many I can steal away in the evening between, dinner, cleanup, house maintenance, shopping, dates, etc. I have to know what I’m working on and stick with it until it’s done.

3. It puts bread on the table

Let’s be real. At the end of the day, what is it that’s paying the bills? Maybe the writing covers an electric bill here and there, or allows for a special date, but about 99.9% of the income is thanks to the ole day job. The grind. So until/if the day ever comes that I do get to do what I love for a living, I’ll keep showing up for work. Staying disciplined, prioritizing, and putting food on the table.

Bread on a proverbial table.

And that’s why I love my day job.

It’s easy to complain. Take a stand and tell me why you love your day job in the comments below! I’d love to hear your reasons!

4 Tips on Titles

4 tips for titles
You can never spend enough time thinking of a title

 

Before someone even picks up a book, there’s one thing he or she is going to hear before anything else.

The title.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard it said that “the first line of your book should be perfect, how it’s your one chance to hook your reader, to draw him in for more.

And while that may be true, the title comes even before that, and thus, I would argue, is even more important.

I’ll put it this way: if the first line of your book is a job interview, the title is equivalent to your resume. Good resume? You might just land yourself a job. Bad resume? You’re not even getting an interview.

So do yourself a favor and spend some time thinking about your titles. In the meantime, read these 4 tips.

1. A good title should have resonance

Resonance is tricky. The most important thing is balance. You don’t want to give away too much or too little. Here is a fantastic article on resonance, in its many forms. Read over it, and comment below with some titles that resonated with you.

2. A good title should summarize, or at least hint at, the theme of the story

This is a tough one, and the reason why your title should be the last thing (usually) that you come up with. Why? Because you need to know what your story’s about before you title it. Now, if you plot your story out completely before you write it, that’s fine, and maybe your title does describe exactly what your story is about. But for those who write by the seat of their pants, so to speak, there is some waiting and patience that comes with titling a story.

3. A good title can be used to get a jump on the action of your story

I want to come back to the example of The Green Mile again, since I just finished reading it for the first time. Stephen King does an excellent job of using his section titles to advance the action of the story. In short, the titles keep us turning pages. For example: one section is titled, The Bad Death of Eduard Delacroix. Whoa! A character is dying, and it’s going to be bad. I’ve got to read up to that point and see what happens! Talk about suspense. Advances action, holds us in suspense, and keeps us reading. Triple kill.

4. Don’t neglect the rhythm of your title. 

This might sound a little hokey to some, but I really think it has some value. Think about poetry. It’s pleasant to read, and easy on the ears. Titles can do the same thing.

Let me give you a few examples of what I’m talking about:

House of Cards

Breaking Bad

Game of Thrones

Notice something similar about these? They’re each three syllables long, with a stress coming on the first and third syllable. Now, this might be speculation, but I think this idea of the double stress is very much “in vogue” right now. These are all tv shows that are very much relevant to the past couple of years. Two of them are still on-air right now, as I’m sure many are aware.

Now I’m not saying that your title needs to be exactly three syllables long and have stresses in certain places, but it certainly can’t hurt to give a little extra consideration to how it sounds. Maybe it’s just me, but I think “House of Cards” is a lot easier on the ears than Avengers: Age of Ultron. In fact, think about how most people refer to it: Age of Ultron. Titles should be easy to remember, and a few, well placed words with a natural rhythm can’t hurt.

Bottom line: you can’t spend too much time thinking about your title. Get one that works and stick with it.

Feel free to share some of your favorite titles below, and what it was about them that hooked you!