How To Finish Your Writing Projects

Last week I listened to a podcast about creativity. In it writer Jeff Goins and Dr. Keith Sawyer discuss how creative people function and the contents of Dr. Sawyer’s book Zig Zag. One idea they mentioned was that writing or creativity does not have to be perfect. But there should be movement from one project to another.

Besides fear, this is one of the main issues I have with writing. Battling the urge to make a billion tweaks until it reaches perfection versus sending out projects before they are finished is a weekly struggle.

I forget that having a process means that some of my writing will work and some will fail and whatever form of failure I feel is not a reflection of me. Finishing anything – a book, a blog post, a book proposal – is an opportunity to learn how to write better.

Finish - Track

The trouble is that I thought any writing process needed to be straightforward and I have difficulty with linear thinking.

From what I can understand, my mind works sorta like a game of soccer, but played by four and five year olds. It’s scrambly, often working in the wrong direction in a tangle of limbs, sometimes picking flowers, and other moments forgetting the rules entirely.

I decided it was high time to focus. To understand how to get this mind of mine to move through a project from start to finish.

I tried the one project method and ended up bored. I wanted to jump to the next thing as soon as I was stuck. I realized if my methodology incorporated bouncing from project to project then I’d better develop a plan.

Here it is – Finishing is the most important thing.

I devised a Finishing Plan and began using it on my blog and a non-fiction e-book I finished last month. It’s been working great. Here is what it is.

1. Finish a draft. Could take a day, weeks, months, or even years. But finish it. Don’t edit. Write the chapters out of order then fill in the cracks, jump to another idea, then circle back, whatever. Just get it out. Did I mention don’t edit?

2. Edit. I print off what I’ve written (or make a separate edit file electronically) and challenge everything. Make notes, scribble in the margins, destroy darlings, and rewrite. Then get it to a friend or editor for more edits. Then I make the necessary changes.

3. Polish. Add the fonts you love, the appropriate artwork, and anything else you may need to dress up the piece.

4. Send it. Post it, query it, submit it to a journal. Just get it out there, and then move to the next project.

5. Circle back and consider what worked or what didn’t and do more of what did.

This system may seem bare and basic but life is complicated. I also tend to hold onto projects too long and need to get them out there and this process allows me to do that.

Reader, what system do you use? How do you keep moving to the next stage or next project? I’d love to hear from you.

Why – You Never Know If You Don’t Try – Is Still True

When I relaunched my blog, I knew I’d eventually hit a wall. Every writer who produces consistent works does. The other day I thought about moving my blog to three days a week instead of every day.

The reason? I was not sure about the post that was about to go live.

If I’m honest I thought it was merely okay. It was fantastic when I wrote it but in the light of the early morning it felt strained. Now, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it.

Then it went live.

I’m thrilled to say I had the most follows I’ve had in several months. I had the most views of the day that week and I had some great comments.

The message of this post is simple. The old adage – you never know if you don’t try -is still true.

Photo Credit: Adrian Fagg via Compfight cc

It also shows that you never know what can happen if you put in the effort. But it does increase the odds about 100%.

In the words of Seth Godin, Ship it! You’ll either have something to learn and grow from or you’ll succeed.

An editor or agent may love your story.

A novel may ready to be converted into an e-book and posted on Amazon or Smashwords.

So try. Give an effort worthy the task.

Have you been surprised by success before? Tell me your story below.

Why You Should Treat Your Book Like A Part-Time Job

Have you ever woke up and thought, I’ll just go into work late today? We all have. But we get up anyway. Its work and we need to go. Our family and our mortgage depend on us.

A few weeks ago I got up at 5am to work on my book. I did this for a week. My life, much like yours is stuffed full and this was quite a feat. Then a vacation came and I stopped. It’s been a few weeks since and I’ve yet to get up early again.

Photo Credit: fireboat895 via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: fireboat895 via Compfight cc

There is a huge problem with this lack of consistent effort. This is my dream, and that’s not reason enough to wake early? I decided to sit myself down, much like any manager would, and have talk about the importance of punctuality. Do I care enough about writing to do it full time? The answer was a quick yes. It is my dream. I knew I needed to challenge myself in the way I thought about my work and maybe you do too.

If we wrote like we were punching a clock, we might be more successful at putting our time in. After all, could you imagine telling your boss, ‘I was just a bit too tired from doing yard work yesterday, so I thought I’d just come in later’? If that doesn’t work for you, maybe you volunteer at your church, or a charity or museum. Can you imagine telling the people who count on you that you didn’t show up because you wanted a few extra hours of sleep? Or that your got carried away in your Netflix queue again?

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying sleep or recreation is unimportant. We all need more sleep than we get on an average night and it’s okay to stop and recharge. My point is to ask the serious question about your craft. Is this worth it? Is it my dream? If so, why don’t we pick it up, dust it off, and place it on a higher shelf of importance?

I finished this blog at 5:37am. It matters to me.

Does it matter to you?

How To Not Be Intimidated By The First (or Blank) Page Ever Again

Have you ever perused a gallery of half finished art? How about watched an unedited movie? Bought a book that has no ending?

Of course not. All of those things would be a waste of time. But this is what we do with our books. When we start, we think they are already on display and worry over every word.

We fret over the first line as if once it’s typed it’ll cure and we can never change it again. And then our book dies because of unfair expectation. But does it have to be like this?

Photo Credit: zetson via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: zetson via Compfight cc

Perfection on the first try is a myth. Or if it is perfect the first time it’s because the individual put in constant hours of play and practice out of the public eye. They tested new methods or perfected one and seemingly burst onto the scene.

But our pages, as well as a lump of clay or canvas, are places to grow and learn. They are what software developers call a sandbox. A place to test. A place to see what happens.

While it’s easier said than done to separate ourselves from our work like a software developer does, we’re doing the same thing and just need to change our mindset.

When you say to yourself that you’re creating a piece of art the pressure to be prefect shoots through the roof. What if you just call it a project or a product? Will this make your work cliché or a business rather than an expression of who you are?

I say do whatever you have to do to keep going. I trick myself all of the time to see where my latest project will go.

Put it this way, if you are backpacking across the Appalachian Trail mile marker one is not the place to gauge whether or not you are a professional hiker. If you stop there, you’d miss the bad weather and a possible bear encounter, sure, but also the views, other people who can share in your journey, and the joy of the distant finish.

So writer, don’t put too much pressure on yourself at the beginning. Writing is hard work as it is. Before you struggle to perfect the backstroke, there came the thrill and joy of just swimming. So just jump in and enjoy it.

When Is A Manuscript Done?

I’ve been editing for some time now. It has been nearly three weeks since I started the process of cutting and manipulating seven chapters of the latest draft of my novel in order to submit it. I’ve found so many mistakes and plot lines that either needed to be removed or drastically accentuated that I am shocked I thought this draft completed in the first place.

This has caused me to do some serious reflection on what a draft is. I used to think that it was another step in the right direction, but a lot of times it is not. Lately I’ve deleted more words than I have kept. I’ve probably been more frustrated with writing through this process than I have ever been. However, I feel as though I am breaking through to another layer of writing that will make me that much better because of all of the toil I experience now.

The main question I wrestle with is, when do you know when a draft is done? You can have friends read it, have them pick over it and give their assessment, make changes based on those assessments, and then redraft. But at some point you have to get it out there. It might sound silly but at times I feel like I am coaxing a little bird along the edge of a branch preparing to push it off so it can take flight. The problem is I cannot be sure this little bird is ready to fly. I know I am ready to move on, but I don’t want to commit a novice mistake and get a rejection just because it is not ready.

I suppose it comes down to believing in your story. That your voice will shine through, and that the editor or slush pile surfer will forgive any inconsistencies that you missed. Hopefully, by the end of the week, I will pluck up the courage to push this feathered little manuscript out into the world. I just hope it flies.  



Use Dialogue to Advance Your Plot

When I look back on the first draft of my novel, I cannot help but cringe. I would liken it to a child’s first drawings, but I was not a child when I wrote it. Since that time I have tried to learn the technical parts of the novel while reconciling those rules with the nuances of the craft.

There are things I know: make sure your verbs agree, watch perspective, add a comma at the end of dialogue. However, there are rules I am familiar with that are much harder to learn. Showing and not telling is a perfect example.

Recently, I stumbled upon something that I should have known years ago:  Advance the plot through dialogue.  When I started writing all those years ago I penned what I thought was a nice beginning:

It was terribly early in the morning, before the sun had even bothered to stretch its rays over the sleeping city of Calelleth and Custos was already dressed, sneaking past his snoring roommates, and ambling down the stairs of the Hall of Arx. The reason for his waking before dawn was twofold. First, because it was harvest time and Custos was a farmer, though many who were to join him in the fields had yet to wake and boil water for their morning teas and coffees. Second, because it was still dark and he did not want anyone to notice his going.

Sadly, I thought this was good at the time. It continues for about four pages before someone else happens upon the scene. However since stumbling upon this tip I have crafted something I think is a bit better:

Custos slipped on his clothes in the dark. He dug his work boots out from under a pile of stinky clothes and a pungent waft of day-old sweat assaulted his nostrils. Custos gagged and stepped backward knocking a chair over. It fell to the floor sending a reverberating crash through the silent room. Custos froze. He listened. His roommates were all breathing heavily, save for one.

“And where do you think you’re going?” asked his best friend Comitis while stifling a yawn.

“Nowhere,” Custos replied while pulling on a boot. “Go back to bed.”

“I’m in bed. You’re the one going somewhere.” Custos rolled his eyes and thrust on his other boot.

“I’ll see you in the fields,” Custos said. Comitis rolled over, groaned and then flopped out of bed. “Um, what are you doing?”

“Going to the woods.” Comitis replied.

“How’d you…”

“I followed you the other day.” Custos was glad his friend sounded somewhat ashamed. “I’ll come to the edge, no further.” Comitis said as his head popped out from the top of his shirt.

“Calm down, I’ve never actually thought of going in.”

“Sure you haven’t.

Though I feel like this is an improvement I will leave it up for you to decided. Please comment in the section below.

Thank you.



Book Proposal Salvo Number 2

This morning was tumultuous, filled with excitement followed by the immediate feeling of regret. Yes, I sent out another book proposal. I am very excited but also had that tightening of the stomach feeling like speeding over a small brief hill in a car.

It’s Away!

I suppose this is how I should feel. If you spent a lot of time on your work (coming up on 8 years now) you should feel this way. After this it’s back to the editing front. I hope to get more chapters done this week. Time will tell.

Sorry for the brief post but I need to get back to work. Thank you to all who encourage and continue to read this blog. I could not have done it without my community. Writing is a solitary process at times. But no writer can get a book published on their own.

Good luck today. Remember your writing goals. Chase after them. Brush that sleep from your eyes and get it done today. Don’t wake up tomorrow with writer’s regret!



My First Mistake

When I started my novel, all those years ago, I thought ‘Wouldn’t it look cozy next to the Lord of the Rings Trilogy?’. Or ‘maybe I could nestle it between David Copperfield and War and Peace?’. I honestly had no idea what I was doing. This was my first mistake, a terribly aimed goal. I did not believe that my work was as good as a classic, nor should any writer. Everyone must find their own path and write what they love and know and let their book be what it is. However, I think a lot of beginner writers have a few presuppositions about big novels.

The main reason I wanted to write something long was because I thought 100,000 words was the magical number I had to see in my word count. And I did. But I did not know that Dickens was paid by the word as were most writers back then. Of course he could have tangents and funny anecdotes but that is how the publishing world worked back then. Not so today.

I recently heard an acquisition editors say that they train their slush pile surfers to toss manuscripts over 80,000 words. I am not saying this is a rule but something to think about. I realized now that 100,000 words are nice for Harry Potter, but that is not for me.

My practice now is to cut out as many words as I can to strip my story down. Chapter 1 was cut by 1000 words and chapter 2 by 500+. My goal is to create a streamlined story. One that is clear and concise and to the point. I my aim is not to get under 80,000 words just because. However, I am doing my best to kill my darlings. I hope you do as well.



The Lives of Characters

The last few weeks writing has been replaced with meticulous editing. I will send chapters off to friends shortly and that goal is a marker that helps me stay focused. However, there are many instances that I run out of steam and I find it hard to come back to the chapter again. After nine revisions of one single chapter, the thrill of finishing is long gone. It is replaced with a long laborious haul. Writing is hard work.

When I started writing my novel I knew that it was the beginning of a series. During the planning process I wrote out the lives of each character. Some would die, some would mature. Some would fall in love, and others would search for loved ones and give up hope. These are the things I am excited to share with my readers and why I decided to write in the first place.

At this point of the editing process it is not the thought of completing the book that drives me.  Rather my character’s dreams and hopes that pull me onward and cannot be silenced. They push themselves to the forefront of my mind and interrupt my day. I think of them while driving or walking of spending time with my family. They are in the driver’s seat begging me to continue, for they want to live.

I write this post because many writers have said at some point characters begin to write themselves as if alive. I thought it hogwash and some silly artist nirvana. Now I understand. Custo, Hailea, Sapien, Maero, Comitis, Nimrodur, Elidur, Lenis, Camilla, and the rest of you. I will finish. Be patient with me.



Write Flash Fiction at Julia’s Place

For the past few months I have participated in a short story contest of sorts. There is no prize besides being a better writer. The flash fiction contest I am talking about is the 100 word challenge at Julia’s Place.

She gives you three to four words which you then build a story around using only 100 total words. If you have heard of William Faulkner’s saying (or whomever coined it) kill your darlings, this is a great exercise to do just that. When writing a story of 100 words there is no way to have excess. You must trim the fat.

I have found that working in small bursts like this has helped me in other areas of writing. Whether working on my novel or writing a short story, I am more concise and clear. I wish I would have found Julia’s place much earlier in my career.

If you wanted to participate just go to Julia’s Place and look for the 100 word challenges on her site. Here are the instructions. They are usually open for a week and you can also view other stories to help you get the idea.

Keep writing, keep refining.