I’m writing this post as someone who hasn’t finished writing a whole story to it’s end since November 2018. You could say I’ve been in a bit of a writing rut. But in true, this sounds extreme when you consider that I have started and written many other stories in those two years, just not to completion, though.
But if you’re someone who wants to be published or wants to make a living as a novelist, you do sort of beat yourself up for writing stories that go unfinished. And finishing, I’m sure you’d agree, is the hardest part.
Here are some ways to ensure that you finish writing your W.I.P (Work in Progress) to the end…
You have to treat your story like a long-term relationship. You have to actively choose it everyday. You have to choose not to give in to the temptation of new exciting stories. You have to commit to it through the bad and the good.
This means saying that you will keep writing to the end no matter what. Even if it’s the wrong ending. Even if it’s bad writing for chapters upon chapters. Even if you would rather write something else. Proving to yourself that you can finish a story is a powerful and important part of being a novelist. It doesn’t matter if you never return to that story again; writing to the end is it’s own reward and teaches you so much along the way.
And don’t worry, you’re totally allowed to take some time to write down ideas for another story. But you’re not allowed to write it; not yet!
George R. R. Martin says finishing a story is the best skill to learn. Victoria Schwab says we shouldn’t get distracted by shiny new ideas as they only come along because you know the story you’re writing so well that you feel “bored” by it; but you’re probably not, you’re just familiar with it.
Remember why you started
Remind yourself regularly of the reason why you loved that story in the first place. Sometimes amidst the plotting and structure, we forget about the essence of the story that made us want to write it to begin with. So, we need to remind ourselves often.
Whenever you hit a wall or fall out of love, grab your notebook or open an app on your phone and force yourself to write out 10 reasons why you love the story and wanted to write it. Even if these become repetitive, it can really help us focus the story, as well as keep writing it with passion.
Check-in with your characters often. Ask them questions. Check that they’re making the right choices. Character-driven plots are my favourite. If I like a character, I’ll like a book no matter what. So, you should like your characters, and so should your readers down the line.
Doing character work can help your story to be better but also help you to want to keep writing. You find out new things about them and it makes you excited to demonstrate that in the story.
Check on your plot, too. Don’t charge ahead with a plot that’s not working just because that was the original plan. Dare to detour and do what the characters want if that suits better and makes you (and therefore your readers later) feel excited.
It’s okay to take a brief moment to analyse the story so far and where you’re at character-wise, plot-wise, and story-wise. Resist the urge to edit, though, if that’s not your process. You can make notes for edits later, but this is just about getting an idea of where you’re at and where you still need to go. This can help you to move forwards feeling clearer.
Discipline and Dedicated Time
The last point is perhaps the most obvious: you need to be disciplined. Writing novels isn’t easy, otherwise everyone would do it. Generally, we as humans are natural-born storytellers. That’s why Linda at work can’t stop talking about her weekend, as if it were an epic novel! But what sets aside the novelist from the everyday person is the discipline and dedication to keep returning to the page and getting the words out.
There will be days when you just don’t feel like it. Days when the words are coming one every five minutes. But sitting down to do it is the hard part. Usually, once you start, something gets written in the end (even if it’s only 100 words, it’s 100 more than yesterday!).
The key is to give yourself permission to write poorly. A first draft isn’t supposed to be Harry Potter-good (in fact, you’ll never be Harry Potter-good, which isn’t a bad thing; it’s freeing!). Instead, allow yourself to write a shoddy first draft. That’s what revisions are for. In the editing stages, you can polish that turd and make it shine!
So, m’dears, just write. Get it wrong. Fix it later. But just write, damn it!
Best of luck!