Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Finishing what you've started

A reader asked me: Do you have tips for me to concentrate, stay on task, and actually finish a story?

Why, yes I do.

There are lots of ways I could answer this - pick a subject you're passionate about, develop a plot with plenty of complications, create interesting characters, etc.

But say you've done all that, and you're still struggling. I think just about every writer, published and unpublished alike, have been there.

This is the advice that worked for me, the advice that really jumpstarted my writing routine, and now I'll happily pass it on to you: Just write the thing.

Stop editing. Stop fretting about whether or not your idea is stupid. Stop agonizing over what your English teacher would think of your iffy grammar. Stop doing anything that isn't getting words on the page.

First drafts are really horrible, icky things. This is true for everybody. Authors you love and admire write really sucky first drafts. It's fine for you to do that too.

When I stopped editing as I wrote, pausing to reread everything I'd already written, rethinking the background of my main character, I started producing books a lot faster.

For me - and for a lot of writers - the hardest part of the process is the first draft. I like to get it done as quickly as possible, and then spend the next couple drafts fleshing out characters, adding sensory details, and stressing out about if I've lost all my talent.
Hope this answers your question.

Do you have a question you'd like to see answered? E-mail me, and I'll take care of it. If you're wondering about it, someone else probably is too.


  1. Another thing that works for some people--and totally straight-jackets others--is outlining. My outlines are mostly just a summary of my vision for the story, hitting on major plot twists and events as they come to me. Usually the end will have a list of bullet points that sound like, "How about this? And maybe do that. Make her think this in response to him doing that thing."

    Some people can write extremely detailed outlines from the start, knowing what will go in each chapter. That's way too constrictive for me.

    On the other side of the coin, there are some people who feel way too stifled when working off an outline, but they have been told that they MUST do one. There is no "must" in writing, though.

    So finding the level of outlining or planning ahead that works for you can also really help get you from "Once upon a time" to "the end." =)

  2. Roseanna makes a really good point. Such a good point that we'll have to talk about outlining in another post.

    I'm one of those people who doesn't work well from an outline. Sometimes, when I've got a twist I'm building up to or something, I'll outline my next couple chapters. I view my first draft as the "bare bones" of the story, and flesh it out from there.

    Like Roseanna said, there's no "musts" in the writing process.

  3. This helps soo much. I'm TRYING to write my first draft, but I'm stuck on this one part... so I'm just gonna keep writing. You're right about the first draft -- mine is all over the place. Argghh!

    It'd probably help if I DID have an outline -- but I do the same, just kind of mentally decide what's going to happen in the next few chapters.

    I can't WAIT for more, and thanks soo much for starting this blog, Steph:))


  4. So glad it was helpful, Emii!

    It's super frustrating to get stuck in a spot in the first draft. Forging on and giving myself the freedom to write lousily until I get back on track is definitely something I do a few times per book.

    If you haven't tried outlining before, it's worth giving it a try. It can save a lot of rewriting.

  5. Stephanie,
    You did it again, you helped me with what I was stressing over once more, even if you had answered that question for me before, it rang true once more.
    Thank you!

  6. I'm so glad, Mary! It's good for me to have the reminder too!