You Must Finish What You Start

Confession Time.

I first participated in NaNoWriMo in 2001.  I don’t think I succeeded in the challenge until 2005 (?). I repeated in 2006 (?).

Honestly, that isn’t so bad a record. So, what’s the confession?

Both of those books I stopped writing after crossing the 50,000 word line.

And never finished them.

If it isn’t obvious, the topic of this post is Heinlein’s Business Rules of Writing #2. As universal a truth Rule #1 is (You Must Write), #2 is almost as much of a no-brainer. There is very little market for uncompleted stories. You Must Finish What You Write.

To do this you have to learn to shutdown the critical side of your mind. We are quite literally the worst judges of our own work. To finish, you have to abandon the pursuit of perfection. You have to work all the way to the finish line. It is only then that you have any hope of selling your work (with few rare exceptions, and even those sales disappear  if you don’t hand over finished work at some point).

Professional is a word that gets batted around a lot. I won’t share my pet peeve on the use of the term.  I will say that a professional completes the job.

Next time, you are picking at the scabs of your work in progress, ask yourself if you are working toward the finish line or just using the editing, rewriting, “polishing”, etc as an excuse to not finish.

Back to my confession, my problems were two things:

  1. I bought into the sloppy first draft myth. In my subconscious mind, I understood that I hadn’t honored my creativity. I hadn’t let it do its thing. Instead I told it, “Fuck around. This isn’t important anyway. Only a first draft. I’ll need to go back through three or four times anyway.”
  2. I bought into book as event thinking.  NaNoWriMo by its nature promotes this. The event was reaching 50,000 words in a month. When the event was over, I shut down.  I never stopped to ask myself,”Why just November? If I can write 50,000 words in November, why not every other month in the year?” (For the record, I only wrote 30,000 words this November. BUT, I have three other “NaNoWriMo” months on the year, where I did manage 50,000 per month.)

I am not one who knocks NaNoWriMo. Chris Baty (NaNo founder) has been as great an influence on my writing, as just about anyone. Back in 2001, I didn’t take his “No Plot? No Problem” to heart. Today, I live by it. However, like just about anything else, you have to take what works for you, and leave behind what doesn’t. Sloppy drafts is a sure fire way to keep me from finishing what I start.

Heinlein’s Rule #2 is not something you can leave behind if it doesn’t work for you. If you want to be a commercial fiction writer, you must finish what you start. If you struggle with this, some self investigation is in order. What other myths or bad habits have you bought into that have become a road block to Heinlein’s Rule #2?



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