First posted on the Writing of a Wisoker on the Loose, 10/20/2010
I’ve been hijacked. Yes, I was sitting at my desk this morning, minding my own business, thank you, and trying to organize notes for a speech coming up this weekend; suddenly these words started spilling out onto the screen, ostensibly to help with the speech. After about three paragraphs I could see that this really had nothing at all to do with the proposed speech; I forced the attacking sentences over into their own file to see what they would do in a setting all their own. They settled down fairly quickly, and became almost tame; and as they allowed me to groom them into a much sleeker appearance, I decided to reward the former hijackers with a blog post spot. So here you go: I hope you enjoy it. I’m going back to writing that damn speech now….
Finishing A Novel
Having published one book sounds impressive; having another one due out next spring sounds fantastic. But the most amazing thing of all, to me, about those two novels isn’t that they were published: it’s that I finished them in the first place. That’s a huge milestone in any writer’s life: seeing a project through to the end and not allowing the demons of doubt to sabotage your efforts.
To give my two published books a certain perspective, I offer this quote from one of my favorite writing mentors, Heather Sellers, from her book Chapter After Chapter.
“Here’s the Super Secret. The book writer’s clubhouse password, what you have to be able to say to get in the room: There are book manuscripts under my bed.”
I have three novels, written in high school, each about fifty thousand words long; about eight years ago, I took them out from “under the bed” and systematically shredded every trace of them I could find. I’ve never regretted it; they were that bad. I have about six more novels in varying stages of completion (one only needs about ten thousand more words, but I am utterly and comprehensively stuck on it), and I may never finish any of them; I have two or three more finished manuscripts from the last ten years that I’m too afraid to look back at, in case they’re as bad as I think they are. So finishing a novel is the big prize, for me; it’s become easier with practice, like everything else does, but I still get a huge thrill every time I close out the last page.
If you’re a writer, and you’re worried about what to write or how to write, listen closely: all the technique and style and profound content in the world doesn’t matter if you can’t finish the story. So just practice finishing a novel. It doesn’t matter a bit if the story is terrible, if you can’t spell, if your grammar is lousy. Those things will slow you down, sure, and make a longer road to publication; but experience will smooth over those bumps eventually.
Finish the damn thing. Then go take yourself out for the most extravagant treat you can imagine: a ‘luxe sundae strictly forbidden under your current diet, one more jungle-plant for your overcrowded living room, that ridiculously expensive pair of shoes you’ve been eyeing longingly. Make that a habit: part of a carrot/stick schtick. Over time, you can scale the rewards: finished a chapter, get a small treat. Finish a book, get a huge treat. Send out a query letter, get a medium treat. And so on. In the beginning, however, make all the rewards for finishing a short story or a novel outrageous; as each skill becomes “old hat”, scale the reward down. Then find something else that scares the crap out of you to assign a ridiculously extravagant award to. Before you know it, you’ll be saying, “Yes, I have a book published, and that is amazing, but what you don’t know is how many manuscripts I have under my bed….”
*ahem* and I believe I’ve finished this blog post now. Time to go add just a bit of chocolate to my morning coffee….
[EDITED 11/24/15 TO ADD: Since I had to rebuild the site, the comments on the original post are shown below. Please do feel free to add more of your own!:
So, how’s the speech coming. I have some experience with that …
A while ago, a number of my FB readers got really upset when I said that I have a couple manuscripts I’m not quite ready to destroy. “Never destroy anything!” they cried. But yes, they must go, as a few others have gone. So, you’re doing the right thing. Nothing was wasted in their creation. Nothing will be wasted in their destruction. Gross images come to mind, but essentially, get the crap out and move on.
As you know, I encourage my students to finish what they write. Their reward, from me, is my approval, and willingness to look at what they’ve done. If it means anything to them. For me, the reward is the knowledge that “From nothing, I’ve created this?!” But yes, a reward is good. Say, three days off before starting the next one. Justifying the next convention. Whatever. You can never publish if you don’t finish. But you just said that, didn’t you.
Now, about that speech … after the chocolaty coffee !
Rebekah Gwaltney | 21 October, 2010 at 8:13 pm
Wow. This is actually very helpful advice! I have always had a hard time getting through the ideas I’ve had. The most I’ve gottne is ten chapters in, and then I just putter out and start working on something else. By the time I feel like writing about it again, I’ve improved so much that I’m ashamed of the quality of the writing. I’ll keep what you’ve said in mind as I keep working on my personal projects. Who knows? Maybe someday I actually will be published.]