I used to never finish a draft of anything.  Or a sewing project. Or a crochet project. Or a poem. I was a queen UNfinisher.

At the Game Devs meet up the other night, during  a discussion on unfinished projects, someone, I think it was Matt, said, “No one finishes things!  Well, except Marie. She finishes everything.”

Despite the immediate desire to protest the compliment, “Huh,” I thought. “I do!”

These days I am a pathological FINISHER.  How did I get from rarely finishing to rarely abandoning projects?

Past me would be really pissed at me for not sharing the secret of my transformation, but I wasn’t sure what it was, until I sat down to think about it.

First: Don’t give yourself a choice.

It’s like roller coasters.

I used to be afraid of roller coasters.  To the point that, when my dear sweet Aunt paid lots of money to take me and my sister to Cedar Point, we waited in line for the Gemini, then ran through the platform to the exit so she wouldn’t know we didn’t ride.

It wasn’t until I was much older that I got over my fear of riding roller coasters.  I started with a less-scary one and gave myself no choice: I was going to ride this ride. I then lied to myself the whole time I was in line. I thought “This is just a ride. I’m going on a ride. Like a ferris wheel or bumper cars. It’s just a ride.”

I let myself panic once the lap bar was down. 😉

“Marie,” you say, exasperatedly, “That only required, at most, an hour of self-control, and you didn’t have to worry about finishing the ride once you were in it. Writing a novel, or even a short story, requires WAY more time.”

Ah – but what I had to finish, what I had never finished – was waiting in line. Let’s assume the ACTUAL RIDE part is signing the contract, making editorial changes, and watching the publisher do their thing.

So that’s my first advice: Ignore the exits plentifully provided around you. Lie to yourself if you have to. There is no way out you are going on this ride.

Next advice: Be prepared to stop.

HA! Okay okay so… this is obviously a complete track-jump from the rollercoaster analogy.  Get the rollercoaster out of your mind, if possible. (Millennium Force… Cyclone… No, no focus!)

AHEM. Like the sentence above, life often provides you with distractions.  Minor to major.  When you just broke your arm, for example, health care kinda has to come before your writing career.  Then there’s always that shiny NEW idea competing for your current project’s attention.  NO! NOT THE DREADED NEW PROJECT! NO!!!!!

Except: Yes.  Yes, new project.  It’s okay.  You can do this.  Stop looking at me like that. I know you are.  One of the things that I’ve done to keep myself productive is ALLOW myself to procrastinate by working on other projects.  I even have a blog post on that.

The trick is to be prepared for these distractions.  Two ways:

  1. Every time you stop, the last thing you do is mark your place.
  2. Before you start the next thing, you schedule when you’ll pick this one up again.

It’s the same as reading a book or knitting a sweater.  You put the bookmark in, you paperclip the row you’re on in the lace pattern, and you put your materials in a convenient location for picking up again.  Knitting by the TV, scheduled for next television watching, book by the bed, scheduled for the next sleep.  Do that with your writing.

When I stop working on a story, the last thing I do is write what happens next in the scene.  “Judy gets angry at him and leaves.”  “The martians attack!” something like that.

One of my teachers once suggested purposefully ending in the middle of a sentence.  The point here is to make sure you leave yourself a NEXT STEP, even if it’s just one word, it’ll get you over the friction of a cold stop.

The second part is the most important: DO NOT LET YOURSELF NOT SCHEDULE A RETURN.  This doesn’t have to be an actual calendar date.  I use a to-do list.  Whenever I have time to work, I look at my list and work on the next project in the list.   It is NOT a ‘this will be done when I check it off’ list. I am just putting it in the queue to work on it.  When I stop working on a non-finished piece, it goes back on the bottom of the list.

In case you’re wondering, my list right now is:

  • Blog – finishing things
  • The Pits – “on a signal I didn’t hear”
  • Podling – Scribophile Critiques
  • The Day the Town Turned Gay – wait on Christian
  • Seventh Street Matriarchy – add to first boss encounter
  • Miss Hippogriff’s – Decide on sub-quest goals
  • Submission Work – 9 more for March
  • Printable Anthology
  • White Fell
  • Journal
  • Submit Poetry
  • Football Memoir – Start revising Chapter 3

Notice that I put a note on where I stopped, and what to do next.  Not on all of them, but most.  Belts and suspenders, friends.

My last advice on Finishing: LET IT BE FINISHED.  Set up your win conditions, somehow.  One of my big problems, early on, was not getting enough words down, but a sort of fear of finishing that kept me in a revision loop.  After all, as long as it was being worked on, it could potentially be perfect. The minute I ‘finished’ it was just what it was.  PLOP. Dead on the dock and not as big as you were fishing for.

Let yourself be imperfect, jaggedy, funky. Let the publisher decide if it’s good or not. That’s not your job. Your job is just to decide it’s done.

For me, I was finally able to do this when I made a folder inside my “Short stories” folder titled “DONE” and I just… moved stories into it. (Ha ha ha I still edit stories in “done” but… it really did help.)

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