How many of you have a bunch of projects that you’ve never finished?

If you never finish a story or a novel, you will never know the best feeling a writer can ever get. Being able to type The End is so monumentally important to your development as a working writer. It means you can bring a project to completion. You can commit. You can persevere. And for your hard work you have a complete, full draft.

And it is hard to complete a novel. This isn’t easy — if it were easy, everyone could do it. People try every year during NaNoWriMo, they try when they get laid off (apparently agents are seeing an increase in manuscripts), they try when something life-changing happens and they say, “This is it, I am going to write a book.”

Some people succeed. Most don’t.

So how do you reach The End? I hope I’m providing a roadmap, albeit somewhat piecemeal, toward that goal. But if you give up before finishing, if you have a ton of novel starts on your laptop, you are cheating yourself out of an essential part of what being a writer is. I’m sure you’ve heard that a writer writes. I would go one better.

A real writer finishes.


Fred Stanton · March 20, 2009 at 12:17 pm

I wholeheartedly agree, and I think the point is worth further discussion because there’s so many nuances to what constitutes finishing, or what constitutes giving up.

If one realizes partway through a story that, for example, it will only work in third person limited rather than third person omniscient, I think it’s all right to go back to the beginning and write it the better way. The author shouldn’t think he or she is giving up. It’s okay to experiment with two or more different beginnings to find the best way to start.

An obvious hazard of trying out different beginnings is that the desire for perfection can be an excuse to never get any further. An early draft doesn’t have to be perfect; it just has to get the story going. In my own experience, I have never written a good beginning without having to scrap the rough draft and start again.

Reaching “the end” is a wonderful thing, but even then there is more work to do. Inevitably, some parts of the story will work and others won’t. There is much to be learned from revising the parts that don’t work. Once again, an obvious hazard is perfectionism; a story one endlessly revises is never really finished. A good story might be made great with just a single revision, while even the most wretched, awful story deserves at least one rewrite before locking it away. One learns from one’s failures as well as one’s successes.

Patrice Sarath · March 20, 2009 at 9:30 pm

Oh I agree that The End is just the beginning and there is a lot more that can be said about revision and the editing process.

But when writing a first draft there are only these things to remember:

Shitty first drafts (care of Ann Lamott, author of Bird By Bird)

or as otherwise noted,

Dare to suck.

And even more important,

Perfect is the enemy of Good.

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