Sometimes it seems like everyone I know either is a published writer (traditional or indie) or wants to be one. There is, essentially, only one difference between the two:
One group finished their books and one didn’t.
Not finishing is part of the writer condition, though. It happens to everyone. Even those who finished their books and were published, guaranteed they have a metaphorical trunk full of half-finished good starts that just never got finished.
I promise. You are not alone. But, it is important to actually get to the end of a story if you want to be published. There are a lot of moving parts in publishing, but that’s the foundation of it all.
Finishing your draft is the most important thing you can do for your writing career, basic as that sounds.
Here’s how you can help yourself get there:
- Muzzle your inner editor.I call mine Blythe. She has her purpose, you know, when I am editing. But when I’m writing? I put her in a bird cage, cover it with velvet, and refuse to let myself get caught up in perfectionism. Perfectionism is the death of creativity. That’s especially true when you’re writing your first draft.
- Write consistently.In my opinion, the best way to do this is to make a ridiculously small goal. My go to is ten minutes. Write fiction for ten minutes a day, everyday. Eventually you’ll notice that once you’re going, you write for 20 or 30 minutes, or an hour. Or all day when things are really rolling. Small goals get you over the hump between writing and not writing. Make your goal so small that it’s harder to skip it than it is to just do it.
- Try gold stars.Get a calendar and a pack of old-school star stickers. Give yourself one for every day that you meet your teeny, tiny goal. A visual representation of your string of successes is powerful.
- Have a road map.I know. Some writers are pantsers and some are plotters. Can I suggest that if you’ve been a pantser (meaning you write without a formal plot or plan) and you’re having trouble finishing your drafts, you probably need to change something up? Here’s the system I use for making a very basic road map for my novels.
- Find your people.Connect with other writers in your community or online. You can start with Ninja Writers. Reaching out when things get hard can make all the difference.
- Don’t edit while you’re writing.I know that I said something like this with #1, but it bears repeating. When you’re writing your first draft, just write forward. Keep a notebook with you while you work and make notes on any changes you need to make during revision.
- Don’t let shiny new ideas derail you.Maybe the biggest problem I see for writers who struggle to finish is that just when they get to the sloggy, difficult middle act of their current work-in-progress, the Universe sends them a miracle. A new idea so bright that of course they have to drop everything and start writing this thing that’s going to make them famous. Don’t fall for it. That’s your writer brain giving you an out for the hard stuff. Take some notes, then keep writing. Finish your draft.
See? No need to send your first born to Rumpelstiltskin. No bleeding on the page. Just take it ten minutes at a time and keep going.
Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She lives in Reno with her husband, three superstar kids, and a yellow rescue dog named Maybelline Scout. She’s on Twitter @shauntagrimes, is the author of Viral Nation and Rebel Nation, and the original Ninja Writer.
Credit: The Writing Cooperative