Writing is a profession that is often times not taken as seriously as it should be. Like a lot of creative jobs, if you’re not as good as the professionals that have been at this for decades, it’s easy to feel like you’ll never arrive to that level of professionalism (or even, gasp acknowledge once you’ve reached there!).
For other jobs, it’s easier to make a mistake, pick yourself up, and do better tomorrow. But creative jobs tend to feel a lot more personal. You mess up, you take it internally, think there’s something wrong with you the reason why you can’t accomplish what you’re going for, and the feeling to give up sinks in real quick.
But things like writing should be seen just looked everything else! It gets better with practice. And throwing in the towel prevents you from getting what many others miss out on as well, which is years of experience. So I’m going to tell you a secret.
Finishing a novel is a practiced skill, so you need to do it as often as possible.
Why finishing your first novel is important
I’ve known a lot of writers with the same problem. They start a project, get excited about it, and somewhere along the line lose inspiration. Sometimes it’s because the idea is no longer working. Other times it’s because they’ve hit a lag and aren’t sure how to get over it. Or even life situations that get in the way, or good old fashioned self-doubt.
Whatever the cause, the result is the same. The novel ends up unfinished.
If these writers are courageous enough to keep up the practice, they’ll try again with another story, or start over with the same one from the beginning. And you know what? They will get better. They’ll craft better sentences, form better stories, solve the problems they encountered before.
But they keep having trouble finishing (not everyone! Just the ones that struggle with finishing a manuscript). They’ll encounter a problem they don’t know how to get past, find a flaw that distracts them from the rest of the story, or have no idea how to get past the middle.
The most common drop off point that I notice is in the middle, after the beginning of the story where things are kicked into gear and the exciting parts start to die off. I think these writers either get intimidated by the ending or fear that the middle isn’t as good as the beginning. Or vice versa, they’ll fear the beginning doesn’t match up with the epic ending they have planned.
I personally think most of these blockages are rooted in self-doubt. Remember the fear of messing up I mentioned? Now, I’m sure you’ve turned in a half-assed essay for school because you were pressed for time or didn’t study a thing like you were supposed to, so you did what you could and put it out of your mind.
I know it’s going to sound crazy, but to some extent, you can apply the same mentality to writing.
I’m not saying write absolute crap (unless that’s what you need to do just to finish. I know some people work better not caring about how it reads and cleans up everything in the second draft, so if this is you, definitely do it). But if you an idea, any idea at all about how to finish, run with it. Write it the best you can, but also try not to worry about what-if’s. What if it’s not good enough. What if it doesn’t make sense. What if no one likes it. What if I come up with a better idea later.
Don’t worry about all that. Worry about finishing, because finishing is an invaluable experience that you’ll miss out on if you keep quitting and starting over.
Write to finish
Why do I keep reiterating that you need to finish? Because those writers I mentioned will eventually perfect the art of writing the beginning of a story. They’ll write so many beginnings to a story, they’ll know it down to a science.
But they’ll have very little experience with the ending.
How character arcs form, how to craft story plots into an intricately woven story, all of these things will be severely lacking. And I’ve seen it happen. Someone that rarely finishes anything will have a very strong beginning, but when they finally do write an ending, it’s often messy and rushed.
Write that idea all the way to the end. Don’t worry about how others will think of it, just put down your idea in its rawest form. Again, this doesn’t have to be a complete mess, but I want you to get down the essence of the idea you started with. Don’t dilute it with the things you added in because you got scared people might not like it (you know who I’m talking to!). Just get it all down, you can change things later if you come across plot holes along the way. But pot holes are easier to handle than writing something from scratch.
So, what do you do? Write. It. Down!
Allow yourself to fail
Guess what. Your first ending may be messy and rushed by the time you finish, too. But that’s the thing. It should be the first of many.
The next ending will be more detailed. And the one after that will have plot twists you’ve learned to include. The next time you’ll be foreshadowing like a pro, and you’ll be able to shock your readers with an ending that’ll last with them for a while.
Sticking to one manuscript that you’ll come back to for years is great, you want it to be the best it can possibly be, after all. But also work on other stories, too. You want experience writing whatever story you want to write, not just the one you’ve been writing all this time. Try different genres, characters you never thought you’d write, explore the areas outside of your comfort zone, and explore the areas within it, too! You’ll get more practice writing different ways to write a genre or idea you love, as well.
Just like with any other profession, experience is invaluable, and luckily for you, you can get it without someone having to hire you for an internship. You can simply write a new kind of story.
You need to practice finishing a story, as often as you start them, if possible. And sometimes that means writing books that never see the light. It’s okay. I have a few stories stowed away, maybe for future editing, maybe never to be seen anywhere. But those stories taught me a lot. They taught me about how I write plots, how I write characters, my strengths and my weaknesses. They taught me about who I am as a writer, to help push me to become a better one. I don’t hate those stories, as rough as they are, because I wouldn’t be here without them.
So finish your story, come what may. Maybe it’ll suck. Maybe it’ll end up being a gem you never expected it to be. You may be the writer, but you’ll find that your work will also change you.