In one of my on-line classes, a student mentioned that he had trouble finishing his writing projects and he wanted to know why. As I know that other people have this problem -- and as I've certainly experienced it myself -- I decided to devote a column to the subject. This article is written as a series of questions to ask yourself, with suggestions with what to do depending on your answers.
Do You Finish Other Projects?
If not, perhaps the problem is not you and writing, but you. You need to review your general behavior and the projects that you do finish versus those you do not.
Maybe you only finish projects when you have deadlines. If this is the case, perhaps you can arrange to be in a writing situation in which you have deadlines. For example, you may take a class in which you have to turn in a short story, or join a writer's group where it will be your turn to present a chapter or a scene.
If you have trouble finishing everything, then perhaps you need medication or counseling. My suggestion is that you tackle this, for once you do, it will make everything, and not just your writing, much better.
Do You Want to Write?
I know this is a heretical suggestion, but there are plenty of people out there who want to be authors -- that is, to see their names on the cover of a book with the great sense of accomplishment and all the expected fame and money (which often, alas, does not arrive). There are others who are moved greatly by the stories of their imaginations and who want to have these transformed into books.
Nevertheless, this doesn't mean that they want to actually do the real writing part, with all the time devoted to typing, thinking, deleting, editing, and concentrating on a single story for as much as two years or even more. If you don't enjoy these activities, well, then, perhaps you should not do them.
Do You Actually Have Time to Write?
If you're a mom with three kids under the age of five, a job outside the home, and you haven't had a full night of sleep since, oh, gosh, you don't remember, well, then, maybe you're too busy just now. You may think it's your right to have it all, but I believe that it's simply too exhausting to have it all at the same time.
If you're in this position, but you know that writing is a dream that has been with you forever, and will be with you later, keep yourself in training. Read -- read what you love; read critically and keep expanding your mind. Read, too, about writing.
Write, too -- but perhaps this isn't the time of your life to start work on a 1,500-page trilogy. Write letters, e-mails, scenes, blogs, short stories and essays. Write short items, when and if you have the time. Work on your vocabulary and on your skills.
I am not saying that you can't start work on your dream project. Just don't beat yourself up if you don't get very far very fast. And, if writing is important to you, you will have to eventually find a way to make it a priority. This may mean sacrifices, certainly of time, possibly of money and even of relationships.
Do You Have the Training to Write a Book?
If you had never jogged around the block before, would you sign up for a marathon and drive to the starting point? If you had never run before, would you seriously expect to finish said marathon? And, even if you did finish -- instead of having a sprained ankle or even a heart attack -- would you actually expect your time in the race to be good?
The same is true for writing. You need to develop stamina for concentrating on a story, for putting words down on paper. Yet there are many who think that they can just sit down and the words will flow from their fingers onto the screen. This happens occasionally (I adore it when my muse is generous) but it doesn't happen consistently. There are too many people who assume that, just because they know how to read - and they may even be well read -- that they're ready to write.
More unfathomable are the people who don't read but assume, nevertheless, that they can write. Yet I have encountered a number of these people too. Often they don't have much respect for fiction. As you are reading this column, which is one way of honing your craft, you're probably not in this group.
Of course, you have to start somewhere. My suggestion, again, is to begin with smaller items, such as short stories. If no short stories come to mind -- and short stories are an art form that is very different from the novel -- try writing up a few events from your life, or the lives of others. Get in some practice, some calisthenics; increase your stamina before buying your ticket to climb Mount Everest. Learn how to write a word, a phrase, a sentence and a paragraph and especially a scene before tackling the 1,500-page trilogy.
Is the Project Itself the Problem?
If you have successfully reached the end of other projects and you generally know how to write, but you are still having problems with a particular project, perhaps this writing project itself has problems. Perhaps there's something wrong with the storyline. Or perhaps it is good so far but you don't know what happens next.
If the story is truly flawed, there is always the possibility that you may have to throw it away or edit severely. I have many flawed stories in my files. Some I have rescued through serious cutting; others don't deserve it.
If you are stuck, then you need to think things through. I hope to cover this issue in more depth in other columns, but for now let me suggest that you ask yourself questions about why you are stuck in your story. You can ask general questions such as "What is wrong with me?" but you will probably be better served by more specific questions such as "What is wrong with this scene?" Do your best to articulate the issues, for when you know exactly what the problem is, you are far more likely to find an answer that really works.
Perhaps you work through these problems, personal and project-related, and finally make it to the end. Let me be the first to wish you the most sincere Congratulations! You have written a book. Give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back.
However, here's the next question -- is it a good book? Is it as good as it can be? It's time to look at your story critically, to edit and to re-write. These subjects, however, will be saved for future columns.
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Victoria Grossack studied Creative Writing and English Literature at
Dartmouth College, and has published stories and articles in such
publications as Contingencies, Women's World and I Love Cats. She is the author of Crafting Fabulous Fiction, a step-by-step guide to developing and polishing novels and short stories that includes many of her beloved columns. With Alice Underwood, she co-authors the Tapestry of Bronze series (including Jocasta, Mother-Wife of Oedipus; The Children of Tantalus; and Antigone & Creon), based on Greek myths and set in the late Bronze Age. Her independent novels include The Highbury Murders, in which she does her best to channel the spirits and styles of Jane Austen and Agatha Christie, and Academic Assassination (A Zofia Martin Mystery). Victoria is married with kids, and (though American) spends much of her time in Europe. Her
hobbies include gardening, hiking, bird-watching and tutoring
mathematics. Visit her website at http://www.tapestryofbronze.com, or
contact her at tapestry (at) tapestryofbronze (dot) com.
Want to learn more about crafting fabulous fiction? Get one-on-one guidance with Victoria Grossack's personal writing class; find out more at http://www.tapestryofbronze.com/VictoriasWritingClasses.html.