Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Finish What You Start - Perseverance in Writing

Not too long ago, I was in the middle of convincing myself to finish a troublesome chapter and I thought about all the times I've finished other chapters. This lead to thinking about whole manuscripts I've tackled. I've created worlds and people who exist within them, but how did I start the whole process and then do it again and again? Not a simple question since writing a story is a constantly changing process. The goal I'd set when I wrote the words 'chapter 1' wasn't the same goal when I wrote the words 'THE END.' My overall goal was to complete a manuscript, but the process to reach the end was as tumultuous as the words within. I had to deal with:

* Family
* Life, Life, Life
* Illness
* Exhaustion
* Vacations
* Life, life, life

I think there is more to finishing a book than determination, (which sure helps), I believe it takes perseverance.

Perseverance: steady persistence in a course of action, a purpose, a state, etc., esp. in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement.

You can be determined to finish the book, the chapter, or even a section. But that's not enough during the long term. You need to ride the rough waters and make it out to the other side. Even if your book takes months or even years. I've seen so many writers start books and then never finish them. I've done the same. But, and there is a but. I have to have a reason for the decision. Sometimes I have to focus on another book. Or I switch gears when the book isn't working. The plot might not be strong enough or the characters aren't working out. I can cut all the words all I want, but if the overall structure is flawed I should not waste my time trying to fix a broken manuscript.

Either way, even if I fall off the horse I still have to work on something and in the end complete something.

I asked a crit partner and Harlequin Special Edition author, Amanda S. Berry, about why she finishes a book. She told me the obvious: "It's not a story until it's complete. A chapter doesn't get you anywhere but closer to the end."

YA writer Sarah Bromley said, "There's the great feeling of completion. A lot of the time when I finish something its because the story has grabbed me. I feel obligated to finish it and see it through. Discipline and dedication is required."

There are various ways to look at writing. Some people do it for the joy of creating words. For me, I get the joy involved in the creative process, but I also see my work as a potential product that my agent can sell. In order for my agent to have something to pitch, I need to finish what I start. Even if my kids are running around screaming, dinner needs to be made, my house is a hot mess, the laundry is piled up--I still have to get through all that and come back to my work to finish it.

Lately, I've been plagued by headaches. They've knocked me down a few times. Enough to force me to not work on those particular days. But the day after I got hit hard, I jumped back on the bucking bronco again to get something done. I learned through writing manuscripts that I'm goal-oriented. I want the prize of a completed manuscript. I hunger for a completed manuscript. So I dangle that lovely carrot in front of myself and I chase after it whenever I hit the keyboard.

Writing is hard. Life is hard. But the rewards are worth it for those who are dedicated and put in the overtime to finish and edit the work. You can do it!

So are you ready to finish what you started? Are you ready to get up early before your family? Work late at night after a long day at work? Can you ignore the call of a great book to write YOUR book? Is writing a hobby for fun or a business decision where you want to submit to an agent or editor? Are you goal-oriented or at least goal-oriented when it comes to your writing?

Nanowrimo is coming! What do you want to do?


Jeannie Lin said...

Great post! I always say once you've finished one manuscript, no matter how ugly it is, then you're free to figure out your process and whether you want to abandon one manuscript for another. But you must finish the damn book first--taking a page from Cherry Adair since I was just at ECWC. :)

Happy Nano'ing if you decide to do it

Sarah Bromley said...

I love this post, Shawny. So many writers just don't want to put in the work to really polish and complete a book. Maybe they like the idea of calling themselves writers. That's fine, but if their end goal is publication, it's not gonna cut it. This is why I said dedication AND discipline. It's not enough to simply love your story. You have to love it enough to see it through.