Friday, December 14, 2007

Don't let Writing get in the way of writing

That may sound counterintuitive, but I don't believe that it is. We all get in our own way sometimes. One form of this is unfinished project syndrome. You've got a book or story that's almost complete, or that just needs one final polish before you send it off, and you are by damn going to finish it if it kills you. This can manifest as an explicit refusal to let yourself start another project till the last one is done. Or it could be less deliberate, something like, every time you try to work on something else you feel guilty about the unfinished project. In either case, the end result is not that the unfinished project gets done, it's that nothing else does.

Don't do this.

Yes, you have to finish what you start and send it out if you want to get anywhere in this business. But you don't have to finish everything that you start. Everybody has unfinished projects. I personally have hundreds. Literally, I was just looking through my unfinished story files.

It is not important that you finish this project and send it out. It is important that you write, and that as part of writing you finish some projects and submit them. Not all projects. Not this project. Some projects. Even, any projects. The only exception to this is contracted works. Those you do have to finish.

But for the rest? Don't let the stuff you feel you have to do get in the way of writing other stuff. Write what makes you want to write. If that means picking up a new novel and running with it for a while. Do that. The unfinished project will still be there after you finish the next project, and your skills will be improved, making it that much easier to complete if that's what you want to do.

Finishing things is important, but it's not nearly as important as doing things that keep you writing. If you're stuck, let your sense of wonder wander. It'll drag you out of your funk, and getting to a place where you're having fun writing is much more likely to result in you wanting to go and finish the unfinished project than forcing yourself to do it ever could.

If you need an outside authority to release you from the geas of the unfinished project, I volunteer:

You don't have to finish it.

There. When your conscience needles you about it, tell it Kelly said it was okay.

Comments? Questions? Requests for unfinished project absolution?


Ris said...

Thank you thank you thank you, Kelly! You just seconded what I spent the first part of the week deciding. I went through my old and not so old projects that, for whatever reason, weren't workign and shelved them so that I could get on with the ones that are working and that excite me.

This morning I was still feeling guilty about choosing not to finish the newer projects that I shelved, but not anymore! I am free of the burden of guilt! I shall write write write the fun short story I started this week without reserve, because I know I can finish it.

And I have realized that sometimes stories need to be set aside because, frankly, I haven't the skills yet to fix what's broken in them. But that skill will come. Oh yes it will. With lots more writing on other projects.

Thank you!!

Kelly McCullough said...

Ris, you are most welcome.

This is one of those things that I don't think gets said nearly enough. I don't think there's a writer out there who doesn't have unfinished projects tucked away.

Some of them will never be finished, and that's okay. Some of them can only be finished when the writer reaches the right point. This is true for the rawest amateur and the most seasoned and popular pro.

Case in point, at the Fantasy Matters conference Neil Gaiman talked about a novel he is just now finishing, a novel that started twenty-some years ago.

Douglas Hulick said...

Okay, so I can blame you if I blow off the rest of the revisions for D&S then, Kelly? ;p

Antony B said...

Boy, did I come across this entry at the right time.

I'm 20,000+ words into a new novel and it is continuously stalling. I think I needed this reminder that sometimes it's okay to put something aside. Least as long as you work on something else instead.

Cheers, Kelly.

Anonymous said...

That's the main thing, I think - as long as you're working on soemthing else.

Now. About that absolution...

Kelly McCullough said...

Okay, so that's three more absolutions then, right? Done. This is actually kind of fun. Oh, but Doug's is conditional--you have to send it out soon whether you revise any more or not.

Anonymous said...

Sweet. ;) On wth the writing. ;)

Ann Wilkes said...

Thanks!! I needed that. Read my blog entry of today.
You've confirmed what I already wanted to do, but was feeling guilty about doing. I was comparing the unfinished project to "last night's fish"--stinkin' up the place from being around too long. I have a great idea for my next novel and that's what I want to do, darn it! Ahhhhhh! The freedom! :)

Kelly McCullough said...

Ann, you're welcome. Happy to oblige.

One of the foundational myths of writing is that the pros always finish what they start. We finish a lot a of it, and probably more than most, but a good bit of that is because we start more than most. The important thing is to write, to continue to write, to finish some of what you start and to send what gets finished out.