Finish the race

“I have fought the good fight; I have finished the race.” – St. Paul of Tarsus

Though Paul was speaking of something greater than finishing a book, the principle remains. Starting is easy. Finishing is hard. Millions of people have started books; how many finish?

There’s a guy in a writing group I go to from time to time.  He has the same story every time. He says it’s the first chapter of his book. I have yet to see the second chapter. It’s been months.

That’s an unusual but not extreme example. I mentioned the guy who told me he’d been a “serious writer” for six years and completed one and a half books.

No doubt it’s hard, folks. Some days I stare at that page, or avoid staring at it. But it’s never far from my mind. If I can’t write, I do something else that might help me write. For me, that includes the following, in no particular order: reading, with a writer’s eye; watching quality TV, with a writer’s eye. taking a walk to think or talk about writing; talking with my wife or a friend, speaking my thoughtshaveing to do with my current project out loud; playing a boardgame or video game for a little while, just to rest my writing brain; taking a bath, usually combined with reading; getting a snack, meal, or cup of coffee to see if the problem might be physical.

The point is, I’m almost always thinking about writing, about my story. I think about it as I fall asleep, I think about it as I’m waking up. I don’t sweat it too much if I don’t write much that day. However, if I don’t write, I at least go through and edit. I start reading my current project and see what occurs to me. Sometimes it’s just word tweaks and catching mistakes; sometimes I come up with a whole new.

I also go to writer’s groups from time to time, but not too often. I’ll talk about writer’s groups in another post. But they can be useful in moderation. I also edit friend’s stories, because doing so teches me about my own writing by making me evaluate someone else’s.

Anything that helps you put words on paper is useful, and if you’re like me, you’ll inch toward the finish. As long as you;’re going forward, you’ll get there. I look at my overall progress and find a daily average. Right now I’m averaging over 1000 words a day. That’s several books a year, and as long as I’m writing that much, I’m happy.

If there is any part of you that doesn’t want to “finish” because it’s not “good enough” (read: perfect), I’ll quote an old saw: the perfect is the enemy of the good. Ifyour friends or your editor or your readers say it’s good enough, get it up there on an ebook site. If you still feel you need to work on it, the very fact that it’s up there in public view should motivate you. It does me. You can always upload another edition. If you’re using a print-on-demand service like CreateSpace, I believe it;s the same deal – revise any time. If you’re going the traditional publishing route and have a normal contract and deadline…well, I’m not the guy to get advice from right now. I’m ebook only right now, and like some friends of mine, if I ever get an agent and a publisher, it will probably be because they approached me. I believe in the new ebook model and I expect the slow death of the popular press, just like we’ve seen the slow death of hard music media.

But at a certain point it comes time to close the deal.

If you’re writing a series book, especially if your outline and plan is flexible, it’s not too hard. Find a climactic point, have all your plot threads intersect, and voila. After that, it’s just editing.

If you’re writing a standalone novel, then you should know where you are going. If you get stuck “trying” to write a certain thing, move on and write what you actually want to write, It might be another story entirely, but hopefully it will just be a different part of a different thread of the book.

For example, if you have the climactic confrontation scene in your mind, but you’re spotty on how to get your hero and villain there, or you just don’t feel like writing that part: write the climax first! Write what comes to you, then stitch it together later. Then as the pieces of your outline get filled in (you did an outline, right?) it will become easier and easier to finish as you get closer and closer.


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