Advice to New Writers: First, You Have To Finish It

keep-calm-and-finish-it-5In my interview with Prism Book Alliance, I was asked to give new and aspiring writers a piece of advice. The advice I gave was this:

Finish things. When you’re starting to write, it’s really easy to get insecure and to hate your writing and to psych yourself out. It’s really easy to start things but not finish things. But you have to finish things. If you don’t finish the things you start, then you won’t learn how to craft a narrative. You won’t learn how to push through that crappy first draft and turn off that critical editor voice until the second draft. Remember, you can’t publish something that isn’t finished. You have to learn to finish things.

I thought I’d take today’s post to expand on this advice. The funny thing about the way I got into writing fiction is that I started writing to help someone else finish what they started. Basically everything set in the universe of Aerdh–from “The Other Side of Town” to Ariah–can be traced back to that. My partner, Jon, was dabbling in fiction, and I liked what he was writing, but he wasn’t finishing it. So I stepped in to help. I became the finisher. And over time, I ended up doing all the writing.

Not finishing what you start is a form of self-rejection. It’s a way of letting your fear that you’r not a good writer prevent you from doing the work that will actually make you a good writer. The truth of the matter is that when you’re just starting out it probably isn’t good. And that’s ok. The trick is to finish it anyway. You won’t ever get better unless you keep at it. It’s a matter of practice, of building skills. And one of the main skills you need to build is learning to craft a complete story: a beginning, a middle, and an end. But if you never finish anything, how will you learn to craft an ending?

Many of my friends who have dabbled in fiction but who have not really made a go of it suffer from starting-but-not-finishing syndrome. Either they start a handful of things when inspiration strikes and bail on the stories at the first sign of trouble, or they have been fastidiously tinkering with the same novel year in and year out.

In the first case, this won’t lead to growth as a writer because there’s no diligence. Writing is a craft, and should be treated as such. It’s a set of skills, and if you really want to grow as a writer, you should approach it as a set of tools you want to sharpen and hone. The myth of the muse dropping into your lap, hypnotizing you into feverishly churning out an opus is just that: a myth. This is a way of trying to avoid that there’s the actual work of writing in being a writer. Forcing yourself to finish things, even when it’s a slog, will give you the grit needed to get the work done.

In the second case, you’re not growing as a writer because you’re trying to write and edit at the same time. Do one, then the other. Stop trying to fine tune your first draft before you’ve finished writing it. But that can be hard to do when you’ve tinkered with it for years! By then, you’ve invested so much time and energy that finishing it feels huge and overwhelming. Take the finishing part in pieces. Maybe write the ending and work backwards. But finish it first, then start tweaking it again. Otherwise, you’re just stalling, which is another form of self-rejection. Better yet, finish it, send it to a beta reader, then tweak it per the beta reader’s feedback. But finishing it is key.