I haven’t done a post about writing in a long time, so let’s start with:
Finish what you started!
A few months ago, I had a folder filled with “stories in progress”, a rough draft for a novel, and a bunch of fresh ideas floating around my brain. I’d see those ideas, like eye floaters, and they’d distract me from what I was currently working on. I do have an eye floater, by the way, and yes, I immediately thought it was a tumor. I’m that kind of guy. And yes, the floater drove me insane for a few weeks. Man, I’m not even going to finish this post about finishing projects.
Isn’t that the curse of the writer? Even though we’re in the middle of writing a story, our minds are already thinking about the next, bigger, better one.
I have a bad habit of jumping into new projects prematurely, often times leaving good stories stranded, hoping for me to one day come back and save them. During the month of April, I finally buckled down.
I decided to tackle my “stories in progress” folder to finish what I started. I can now say I’m done with 11 stories, with 4 more to be finished in the coming weeks. I’m doing a final edit on my novel as well. And, I’ve got an awesome twist for a possible Memory Eater 2 anthology.
But how do you make yourself finish something so you can focus on the future?
It’s hard, plain and simple. I’ll compare it to eating. You know you should save half for later, or not devour your kid’s birthday sweets, or chomp on that lousy apple instead of an entire bag of Doritos, but the craving is always overpowering, and your will breaks, and you give in, and then you feel sorry for yourself.
Same thing with writing. You know you should complete your story, but you’ve been slaving over it for two months, and while it used to be new and exciting, now it’s old and boring and seems like a chore. The thing is, the next story is going to suffer the same exact fate. And the story after that. And the story after that.
To actually finish what you started, you just have to do it. Yes, even if you don’t want to. What if the story is absolute garbage? Even your mom says so, and she’s the queen of white lies?
Even if it’s the worst story in the world, and you know it, finish it. The thing that’s going to help you by doing this is proving to yourself you can and have finished something.
Our minds are like junk drawers. Sure, there’s a lot of junk in there—but every now and then, we’ll find a gem or two. The problem is, we can toss junk out of a drawer. With stories, we’ll never truly be free of them until they’re finished. Years down the line, you might still be wondering how that terrible, half-finished story would have ended had you finished it.
In time, these unfinished stories become burdens. As they pile up, you can’t help but think how far behind you’re getting—how overwhelming it is to open the “stories in progress” folder and see dozens of unfinished stories, each waving their hands around, shouting, “Hey, remember me?”
Before finishing those 11 short stories, I honestly felt like I was creating mess after mess, then swimming through it all. I mentioned this when I first started blogging, and it still holds true—I believe writers need as much order in their lives as possible, because if they don’t, their writing starts to suffer. As writers, we need to dive into projects feeling good and ready to go so we can focus on what’s important. If you were an artist, how would you create a masterpiece if you lived in a home like those people from Hoarders? Our canvas isn’t tangible, nor are our ideas, so structure inside our heads is imperative.
After finishing those 11 stories, I felt a huge sense of accomplishment. Like I could think clearer. I’m not worrying about those stories any longer. In my mind, even if they never sell, even if my mom spits on them (which she wouldn’t), even if my six-year-old son says, “My story about letter openers is better,” so what? At least I finished them. They’re complete, and with them being complete, I’m able to start new stories with a blank mind. Okay, not necessary blank, but pretty damn close. At least I’m able to walk into the new plot without feeling weighed down by old ones.
My method of clawing through the mess of writing isn’t new, or mind-blowing, or complex, but it works for me, so maybe it will work for you. I try to keep things as easy as possible, so here are 6 tips to help you organize and clean that brain of yours:
- Open an unfinished story, read what you’ve got and just start writing. If you’ve advanced your writing skills so far that what you have on paper is really bad, then rewrite it. You’ve probably heard this before, but forcing yourself to write is the easiest way to get the juices flowing.
- Keep it short. Not every story has to be an epic Nebula winner. Dealing with a complex idea? Try to examine one aspect of it. Use the least amount of characters possible. Make it take place in one location, Hell, one room. Try to convey your point in the easiest way possible. Use dialogue to make it flow faster.
- Don’t think about the grueling task at hand. Yes, it sucks forcing yourself to do something, but just like showing restraint from eating an entire bag of chips and a jar of salsa, you’re putting the work in now so you feel better about yourself later.
- Put it out there. Tell someone you know, maybe someone who reads all your stories, that you’re going to have “enter the title of your unfinished story here” done by the end of the week. When you put it out there, you create expectations, and there’s nothing worse than being perceived as a failure. And remember, writing a crappy story isn’t failure—it’s practice.
- Exercise. LOL, what? Yeah, you heard me. Go for a walk or do a workout DVD. I do both, and afterwards, my motivation tank is overflowing. Sometimes I’ll clean the entire house. Sometimes I’ll pump out a story. It’s all about getting yourself in the mindset to work. As an added bonus, when you feel good about your body, it shines through your writing.
- Talk to someone about something you enjoy. Make sure it has to do with writing. So movies, shows, comic books, video games, they all work. Do it at work. Talk over the water cooler. Well, who has water coolers anymore? My office of 1,200 employees does, but it’s only for five people who paid for it. The rest of us drink out of the tap or from the vending machines. But really, get into deep conversations about great media, and you’ll find that you’re actually motivating yourself in the process. You’ll walk away from that water cooler, or water fountain, or vending machine, ready to log back onto your computer and kick some writing ass.
Lastly, I was recently contacted by a woman named Allison who read an old blog post of mine about motivation. She passed along a fun, interactive graphic with tips on how to stay motivated and meet deadlines. You’re able to scroll over the bubbles on the graphic, and the tips instantly pop up. Pretty cool, so I thought it would be the perfect note to end on. To view Allison’s graphic in its entirety, click right here.