On finishing, and how to get there

By | October 4, 2010

Our last couple of posts have been about what to do once you’ve finished a story. But how do you finish in the first place? What happens if you’re not inspired one day, or if you suddenly (hi, college) get really busy? Having dealt with inspiration droughts and academic avalanches–or, as often as not, both at the same time–here are my thoughts on the matter.

It helps to want it. Let me rephrase that: you have to want it. And “it” isn’t fame and fortune. You have to want to tell this story. Because at the end of the day, after you’ve had the marathon IM sessions with your writer friends about character, plot, and the all-important opening lines, after you’ve read through the archives of blogs by awesome editors and literary agents, there’s you, and there’s your computer screen. (Or a sheet of paper, I guess.) Sometimes the act of invention will be pure joy, but to get to those moments, you have to do a lot of work.

(If every moment of writing is pure joy for you, and sunshine flows from your fingertips as you type, please leave a comment so I can hit you.)

And because you want to tell this story, you will carve out time for it. If you have to, you will cut down on TV and/or the Internet. You may even tell your long-suffering boyfriend that tonight is a writing night. And during this block of time you’ve made, you’ll do something related to the story. If you’re not feeling particularly inspired, ask yourself, “What’s keeping me from moving forward?” Then fix it.

This summer, working on my novel, I found myself having to write a scene like nothing I’d ever written before. I told myself I was stuck because I still needed to plan out some of the finer points, but really, I think I was just scared to death. But about a year ago, I had told my friends that I wanted to have a first draft finished by my birthday. If I was going to meet that goal, I would have to push through and write the scene. Finally I did it, and thanks to two years of outlining and re-outlining, the rest of the manuscript came relatively easily.

Deadlines, even soft, self-imposed deadlines, are a huge help. Set a goal, and hold yourself accountable in some way. A friend of mine pledged to donate $50 to her least favorite politician if she didn’t write 50,000 words in a certain timeframe. For my part, I just posted my goal on my blog and periodically spammed everyone with my wordcount kept my friends informed of my progress.

That’s it, really. There’s no huge secret. As John Scalzi pointed out recently, we make time for what we like to do. But I will let you in on one thing: when you finish something you’re happy with, something you worked hard on and might even kind of love, it is so worth it.

Any tips for finishing stories that I missed? Comment away.