Friday, September 24, 2010

Rule #2: You Must Finish What You Write

Please forgive the lateness of this post.  Time got away from me last weekend.  I hope to be more timely in my posts to keep this blog active and up-to-date.

So we've covered the first of Heinlein's rules, you must write (and a good post on that is found here: http://whatever.scalzi.com/2010/09/16/writing-find-the-time-or-dont/).  Now we come to rule #2: You must finish what you write.

If you're like me, you have a bunch of unfinished stories and novels taking up hard drive space on your computer.  Maybe it's an incomplete manuscript stuffed in a drawer.  But we start stuff, and then we leave it unfinished.  Why?

Sometimes things get unfinished because they need to be torn up and started over.  I once got well into a novel before I realized I was telling it from the wrong character's point of view.  There was no way to fix it, so that manuscript stayed unfinished and I redid the entire novel from scratch.  (I was very unhappy the day I realized I had to do that).

But more often we don't finish something because we run out of steam.  We lose interest in the project.  Or we hit a snag and we feel like we can't finish.

Or we get afraid.

Afraid that what we're writing is garbage.  That it's not good enough.  Our critical brain gets hold of us and hammers us to the point we just let the project die.

We don't trust the process.  We don't trust rule #1, which says "write!"  We don't trust ourselves.

If we want to succeed as writers, we not only need to write, but we need to finish our tales.  Let our creative brain run wild.  The story is in your head - let it out.

"Easy to say, Laura," I can hear you say.  "But how?"

I wish I had a nice and neat formula for you on that.  Truth is, I struggle with this rule just like you do.  Like I said, I have unfinished projects.  But here are a couple of things that might help.

-- If fear is what's holding you back, ignore it.  Finish the story.  Then send it out.

"But it's garbage!" you cry.  Who says?  You?  Writers are the worst judge of their own work.

Let me share a personal example.  I was at a writing workshop one time and assigned to write a short story that was fantasy noir (sounds fun, doesn't it?)

I'd never written noir before.  In fact, I wound up watching "LA Confidential" to get a feel for noir.  When I started the story, I was convinced it was awful.  Because I was under a tight deadline, I made myself finish the story, figuring at least I'd get it turned in finished and on time.  I was prepared to be told it was completely unworkable.

Upshot?  People loved it.  Thought I'd done a great job.

Like I said, we are awful judges of our own work.

-- Decide if a project needs to be restarted from the beginning.  As I said, sometime that happens.  Figure what you've done was a good first try and redraft the story from page one.  But do the redraft - and finish the story.

-- Find tricks to work through snags.  Sometimes we run into project block.  Maybe you need to throw in something wacky to get the story moving along.  Or you need to write a brief outline of the story to see where you are going.  Whatever trick works for you, use it.

And have fun.  I forget to do that sometimes, because writing is my career right now.  But I started it because I enjoy making stuff up.  Go back to that, play with your stories, let your imagination have its way.  You might be surprised at what happens when you do that - you might even finish your stories!

Well, this blog post is finished.  I'm sure it could be better, but it's done.  I hope it helps you.  If you have tips and tricks to share, please do so.  Maybe one of them will help me!

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