The Importance of Finishing
Alright you children, I know the title of this one has a double-meaning, so get your chuckles out now while you still can. By the end of this blog, I’m probably going to use the word “finish” so much that it turns to nonsense and stops feeling like a word at all. Because even though it comes at the end, finishing is one of the first, strongest, most constant problems that authors face.
How bad is the problem? I can’t say for 100% certainty what question I’m asked the most, but the top three are basically neck and neck enough that their positions are interchangeable. Those questions, listed in an order facilitating dramatic effect, are:
-When does the doubt go away? (Never)
-How do I self-publish? (Write a book, hire an editor and cover artist, post to Amazon)
-How do you finish a book? (The rest of this blog)
I get that one a lot. And you know what, I completely understand why. It’s important to remember, as the years wear on and books pile up, that I’ve stood where you stand. I’ve looked at the seemingly unscalable mountain of writing a book, wondered how in the hell I was supposed to get over it with no idea what I was doing.
It’s only been in the past year that I’ve found a good answer for that question, something I can tell to anyone yet still believe in as solid counsel. My tactic isn’t especially complex, or even technically difficult from a physical point of view. The advice is simply this:
Make a habit of finishing.
Works don’t stop mid-way by themselves. An author makes that choice. They walk away from their project, occasionally turning to something new or different, more often simply unsure of where to go next. They’ve lost their thread, don’t know what the right next step in the story is, or worse, do know but lack the surety to write it. If the book won’t be good, then why bother wrapping it up?
That question, right there, may very well be the root of the issue. Now let me get one point cleared up real quick: if you are a practiced author, especially one writing for a living, sometimes you have to scrap a project. That’s a learned skill, however. In fact, the process I’m describing is how you learn it. These kinds of calls are for people who no longer struggle with finishing. If you’re not in that camp, then refer back to my bolded line of advice.
You need to understand something, something a lot of people seem to have trouble grasping. You will not write a good book your first time, anymore than you’ll win a marathon on your first jog. Writing is a skill, I’ve literally lost count of the times I’ve said that, and it needs to be trained like any other. That’s part of why finishing is so important.
Imagine you regularly went to the gym and only did upper body. No cardio, no legs, nothing but the arms and torso. Rather than being generally healthy, you’ve only trained one specific chunk of your body, and in real world activities you’ll find yourself slow and short of breath. Why? Because you didn’t learn to exercise, you just learned to lift weights.
Same principle applies to writing. If you start 10 books and finish none of them, when book 11 gets past that same hump you always hit, you might suddenly find yourself flailing, unsure of what to do next. Because you don’t have any experience in actually ending a book, all you learned how to do is start them. And you want to be good at endings. Endings are the final note of the song, the reverberation that hums in someone’s brain after the last word has been read. You need to hone that skill just like your openings, and editing, and dialogue, and every other feature we wouldn’t imagine skipping on a project.
So, down to the nitty gritty, how do you finish a book when you know, in your heart, that it isn’t going to be quality enough to publish? First, remind yourself that it’s okay to write a bad book. Hell, it is necessary that you write some bad books, in fact. Writing those books will let you see where your strengths and weaknesses are, they’ll help you find the bits that shine with your own unique style. None of that comes out of hand, you have to work for it, make those mistakes and learn from them.
Secondly, keep in mind that there is value in writing to the end even without publication. I know that one can stick for people, especially ones with limited free writing windows. You’re not wasting time, though, you’re training skills that will be essential once you’ve got a book that feels worth finishing. The act of writing those words, good or bad, is the point. Get better, get comfortable, get practiced. The more you do something, the better you become.
Lastly, keep the stakes in mind. Yes, for someone like me a bad book would have fiscal ramifications, however if you’re struggling with this issue then I assume (and hope) you aren’t already in a similar position. Writing an ending you don’t love won’t destroy your career or wipe out your savings. Unless you share it, no one will even know it exists. Trust me, I’ve got a few old projects never seeing the light of day myself. The risk is only the time you spend, time that counts as practice regardless.
For the folks who need one more trick: when it comes time to make that choice, consider the eventual outcomes. If you quit, it’s one more abandoned project on the hard drive, one you look at with a pang of regret, maybe even shame, each time you see it. Conversely, if you finish, you’ve got one more brick laid on the pathway to betterment, and something you can look through to grow as an author.
To be fully honest, the best trick to be able to finish a book is to have already finished a few already. Daunting as that mountain seems, once your over, it isn’t quite so scary the next time. You know you can do it, because you’ve done it, and the more of those finished projects that pile up, the more you’ll wonder why you ever doubted you could make it over in the first place.