Sunday, January 29, 2012

Finishing what you start

by: Joelle Charbonneau

Almost everyone I know loves to begin a new project. Whether it is a novel, a short story, knitting a scarf or building some cool new thing for the house – beginnings are exciting. Everything is bright and new and shiny. Kind of like a new toy on Christmas Day. There are endless possibilities as you imagine the fun you will have.

Beginnings are awesome.

Too bad beginnings can’t last forever. But they don’t and the bright and new and shiny wears off and you are left with something that no longer feels like fun. Instead, it feels like work.

Whether you are a third of the way through knitting a sweater, rebuilding a car engine or writing your manuscript—getting past the point where the activity feels like work can be tough. This is probably why so many people talk about wanting to write a book or knit a blanket, but never have a finished product to show anyone. They get distracted by an exciting new idea or a nifty knitting pattern and suddenly they have ditched the old one so they can have the “new toy” feeling again.

When new writers ask me what I think is the most important step they can take to becoming a published author my answer is always the same. Finish a book. It doesn’t matter if you realize halfway through that your midget werewolf, time travel, erotic mystery is not what the market is looking for. I don’t care if you say that you’ve realized your story has a huge hole in it. I don’t care about any of the reasons you have for not finishing the book. You need to keep going and finish the damn book!

Why finish something that won’t have a chance in hell of selling? Because finishing a project teaches you something very important. It teaches you that you actually can finish..

Why is that important? I mean, if the book will never sell, who cares. It doesn’t matter that you’ve finished the book. Right?


I know lots of aspiring authors who have been typing furiously for years and have never gotten to THE END. And while they keep blaming the story or the lack of time to write or the worry that the market isn’t going to want to buy what they are writing – they are just making excuses. With every new beginning comes the bright and shiny new toy moment. But for those that have never finished what they have begun that bright and shiny moment is laced with fear and uncertainty.

Uncertainty because you have never finished a project.

Fear that you never will.

Trust me when I say the first book I wrote will NEVER see the light of day. It sucked. Oh – there were good moments in it. It would be hard to write that many words without a few gems in the bunch. But I hadn’t a clue how to really construct a story. I didn’t have a feel for pacing or for keeping a scene focused. Face it—I didn’t have a flippin’ clue. The only thing I did right was I finished the sucker. All 134,000 words of it. (Yeah – now you can see why that book had problems…right?)

But that book taught me something very important. It taught me that I could sit down every day and fill the pages with words. Even though the story was less than perfect, it had a beginning, middle and most important it had an end. I learned that I could finish a book. Which meant when I started the next project, I KNEW that project would have an end, too.

I currently have two books on the shelves of your local bookstore with eight more under contract—only 3 of which are written. If I hadn’t proven over and over again to myself that I could reach the end of those as yet unwritten books I would be cowering under my bed. Instead, I sit at the computer every day and know that I will reach THE END of all of those books not just because I have to, but because I have proven to myself that I can.

We all like to talk about voice and sentence structure, pacing and characters, but so often we forget the most important milestone of a writer’s life is finishing that first book and banishing the fear. And when you are fearless, anything is possible.


WriterMarie said...

Excellent point, Joelle! The one thing I've heard most is to write something everyday - no matter what. It can always be revised afterward, but unless you get all of it on paper (or actually, on computer!) to begin with, you will never get to that stage. Thankfully I followed that advice for my first draft.

That being said, I've taken way too long with my own revisions, because of worrying about who will want to publish it and such. Plus I let the negativity of another writer, who was supposed to be a close friend, get in my head when I should have just been concentrating on my own stuff. Thankfully I stopped listening to her when she came out and told me that I'd never reach my writing goals, or any of my fitness and life goals, for that matter...and told me to just give up since I'd never be worth anything.

Let's just say this person is not my "friend" anymore. And since I haven't had her negativity around me, I've gotten a lot more done. (Who knew?) Our inner voices don't need any "help" from others to stress us out and make us afraid. We usually do a good job of that ourselves until we learn how to keep that inner voice positive and move forward.

Setting daily goals really does help, and my revisions will finally be complete by this time next month - so I can get this novel out there!

Dana King said...

I have said for years that extensive research has proven Shakespeare, Dickers, Dostoevsky, Chandler, Russo, Charbonneau, and other successful writers all have one critical common to all their writing:

They finish.

Joelle Charbonneau said...

Ok - perhaps the coolest comment ever goes to Dana. You just included me in a group with Chandler and!

And Marie - yeah - people who tear you down are never a good support system. Finishing the book and trying to get published are hard enough with adding negativity to the mix. Great critique partners are worth their weight in gold, but they understand that they are supporting while they are pointing out issues for you to improve upon.

Travener said...

I have a lot of first chapters sitting around with no second this post was especially helpful to me. Thanks.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Great post, Joelle! And so true! Another point to consider is that you will have difficulties in life eventually, no matter who you are, and if you have a habit of finishing your books, you will know that you can meet deadlines and finish what you're writing, no matter what befalls you.