It’s important to finish a task. We know this is true for most things in life. If you don’t finish the laundry, you’ll have nothing clean to wear. If you don’t finish a class assignment, you’ll get a failing grade. If you don’t finish a project for a client, you’ll likely get fired.
For writers, finishing our work is just as important. In this case, I’m talking about finishing a draft. Here are my top five reasons why this is really, really necessary:
An unfinished draft will never become a book.
If you have no first draft, you have nothing to work with. A terrible first draft is still better than no draft at all. Maybe this draft will never become a book. Maybe it didn’t turn out the way you planned. Maybe you’ve lost your enthusiasm for it and want to move on to the next idea. But maybe with patience, more work, and good editing, it will become a book worthy of publishing. You won’t know unless you finish it.
You’ll learn to write even when you don’t feel like it.
There are days when I really don’t want to write. I’d rather do just about anything else, like hang out on Twitter, or clean my bathroom, but I have to because this is a job now. What I’ve learned from finishing my projects, even the ones someone else isn’t paying me to finish, are good habits. I know that I have to create a schedule and stick to it. I know I have to fiercely protect my writing time and space. I also know I have to work through writer’s block.
For me, writer’s block has never been about lack of ideas. Instead, it’s been about losing my way with a story and becoming nearly paralyzed with fear that I won’t be able to find a trail of breadcrumbs to follow back. Here’s a post I wrote about that experience: Break the Block. At the end of the day, every writer faces moments when the words won’t flow, or when we simply don’t feel like doing the work. We have to have the wherewithal to do it anyway.
You’ll know you can do it.
Once you’ve completed a project, you’ll know what it takes, and you’ll know you have what it takes. The biggest factor that kept me from starting my first novel years earlier than I did was the idea that I couldn’t finish something, that I wouldn’t be able to sustain the story arc, that I just didn’t have a whole book in my head. When I wrote the last line of my first manuscript, I knew without a doubt I could do it again. Finish something. Even if it’s terrible. Only then will you know you can.
There will always be another shiny new object.
When I’m in the drafting phase of a project, all the new ideas want to show themselves. I think it’s because my creative juices are flowing and it’s like opening a floodgate! But if I let every shiny new story idea distract me, I’d never finish anything. Instead, if something really promising presents itself, I create a folder, jot down a few notes in an outline, and save it under my “wait your turn” file. I know I won’t lose the thread of the new story, but I also have the discipline to finish what I’ve already started first.
You’ll learn to get through the sticky middle.
Writing the beginning of a story is exciting. Making it to the end feels liberating. But the middle can sometimes get pretty sticky. Here are some tips from last week’s blog on writing the middle of your book: Stuck in the Middle.
Once you’ve made it through the middle, which can sometimes feel like getting lost in the forest without that breadcrumb trail again, you’ll know how to do it. Maybe not elegantly, maybe not as skillfully as you will a few years and a few more novels from now, but you’ll have done it, and there’s value in the experience alone.
So, keep working. I’ll meet you at the finish line!