Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Writing Advice Examined: Finish your book!

Stephanie Morrill is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com and the author of several young adult novels, including the historical mystery, The Lost Girl of Astor Street, which releases in February 2017. Despite loving cloche hats and drop-waist dresses, Stephanie would have been a terrible flapper because she can’t do the Charleston and looks awful with bobbed hair. She and her near-constant ponytail live in Kansas City with her husband and three kids. You can connect with her on FacebookTwitterPinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.


I've been a total writing podcast junkie for the last few weeks, and it amazes me how many times I hear veteran writers give the advice to finish your book.



This advice makes sense to me (and I've given it too) for several reasons, but hearing it over and over made me think about all the unfinished books floating around on my hard drive. Even as a multi-published author, I don't finish every book I start. So today I want to dig into the reasons why authors so often tell new writers that they need to push through and finish their book, and also why maybe you shouldn't.

Why you should finish your book:

Sticking with a story from beginning to end--even if you never go on to edit or publish it--is the best way to learn how to write a novel.  With every first draft I've completed, I've learned so much about what type of ideas excite me enough to make it through to the end, how many complications and twists are necessary to keep a story interesting, how do build a good character arc, and so much more. Craft books, blogs, and classes are great, but the absolute best way to learn how to write a novel is to actually write a novel.

You can't sell an unfinished book. Lots of new writers get jazzed about ideas for their cover, looking for an agent, or writing the screenplay adaptation for their novel. But none of these great things can happen until you've finished the book. So that needs to be priority number one.


Why you should not finish your book:

You've lost that loving feeling: (Cue the music.) Now, mature writers know that we don't always have warm, fuzzy enthusiasm for our books. We do at first, of course. Same as a crush. But with time, that new-book-crush feeling fades and with it goes our energy and interest.

I scrolled through my archive of abandoned projects from the last few years and identified why I walked away from a few:
  • Story #1: This idea was more about characters and the situation, but I never found a plot that I liked well enough to write more than a chapter or two. Maybe one of these days I'll figure it out.
  • Story #2: Working on this book bummed me out. My character was in a dark place, and I found myself getting annoyed with her because she wasn't doing more to fix her situation. I gave up after about ten thousand words.
  • Story #3: I was so excited about this book! I wrote three chapters, and then my enthusiasm faded until I forgot about it until just now.
  • Story #4: This book sounded so fun to write, but I never could figure out where to start it and moved on to something else.
Sometimes, like with real love, when our book crushes fade, our feelings evolve into something deeper. That happened to me with The Lost Girl of Astor Street. While the book definitely felt like a struggle at times, it felt like a worthwhile one.

Right book, but wrong time: Now, one of these days, I may come back to the books on that list above. I may find a plot to work with my premise, or I may figure out how to write that story without getting bummed out and annoyed. There's certainly no rule of, "Once you've abandoned a book, you can never come back." For me, both Me, Just Different and The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet were books that I gave up on a few times before returning and finishing them.

What are your thoughts? How do you know when it's worth it to push through to the end of your novel?







13 comments:

  1. I have a serious problem with not finishing things. In fact, I have never finished a novel and have only finished a couple of VERY short pieces. Yet, I write all the time. I don't know what it is, but I just struggle with following through. However, I have COMMITTED to finishing my current project even though I don't love it right now. It's a novella. I can surely finish a novella. Surely... Doesn't have to be good. It just needs to get done. Right?

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    1. I struggled with finishing things too, Ashley. I love, love, love writing beginnings, and then the book starts to feel difficult to me. "Doesn't have to be good. It just needs to get done," is something I say over and over to myself during the first draft :) You can do it!

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  2. The biggest problem I have with long projects is that the premise gradually changes... What was originally a glorified chess game turns into what you'd get if a chess game and three card monte got stuck in a blender. I'm working through a near-complete rewrite to keep the flavor of the story consistent.
    I do like this draft better, though.

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    1. Yeah, my stories often shift too. I think it's good for them, though. Like you, I often find that they get more complex as I work with them, and that I like the results, even if they weren't my original vision for the book.

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  3. For me, I don't know that I've ever consciously made the decision not to finish a novel. I have tons that aren't finished, but I'm always aware of them. Whenever I start a new story that is fresh and exciting I always think that sometime I need to go back to those poor half done's. The only reason I've ever come to for not finishing a book is if I get into it and realize that its too similar to someone else's book. If I've accidentally started to rip off someone else's story, I'll usually let that story die. I'll keep it saved in case I need to rob a character from it or something. Some piece that was original and mine, but if I find a story too close to someone else's I'm probably gonna shelf it. At least until I have time to go in and do some major revising, so I might be able to keep a character or whatever and make it original again. What I really love about finishing is that sometimes the end result makes me love the story. I had a story one time that I liked when I started it, but it didn't take me long at all to get really bored with it. So I left it be for awhile and started working on other things, but I always felt bad for not finishing, because I knew I had an ending, if I could just figure out a good middle. So whenever I would sit down to write the story I was currently in love with, I would make myself write 100 words for my 'boring' story. It was just enough to keep going, but not so much that I was miserable. And the more I wrote, the more the ideas started to fall into place. And by the time I got to the ending, I loved it. Of course, I have to go back and do some editing on the first half of the story so that its lovable and interesting all the way through. But I have the story written. So now I'm free to start revising if I want to.

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    1. That's so exciting! I'm really impressed with you for powering through.

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  4. I've only ever finished one story, which is my current WIP...I finished the second draft a couple of months ago so now I'm on the THIRD draft (and it somehow gets longer every time). I've tried to write other full novels before but I either lost interest or got disheartened by another book. I pushed on with this one, though, because I actually wanted to sit down and write, which is really important. I think the best part about finishing a story is the feeling of success: even if it's kinda bad with tonnes of plot holes, it still feels like an accomplishment.
    I also can't wait for We Write Books! I'm still struggling with the synopsis though...I've found that it's very difficult to compress a 270k novel into 2 pages--but hey, that's a useful thing to learn!

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    1. My books get longer with each draft too :) I agree - it's definitely an accomplishment to make it to the end!

      Oh, wow! That's a huge novel to summarize in 2 pages!

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  5. It took me so long to find an idea I not only loved, but was willing to stick with to the end. I wrote my first first draft by hand, and it's really short (and terrible but y'know). I rewrote it when I wrote it on my computer and have written several drafts after that (I have no idea what number I'm on because I didn't do it in a way that could be numbered). Right now, I'm getting really close to finishing the first draft of a story I thought was too dark for me to continue. I like how unexpected projects can end up becoming a lot more than you thought they would be. :)

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  6. I have a whole bunch of unfinished manuscripts. Sometimes a book is not meant to be written and other times it's just not the right time to write it. You gave some great advice and while in the beginning it's important for starting writers to finish what they started. As they mature they'll come to learn to choose which books they want or need to finish.

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  7. These are good points, Stephanie. You make me feel a little better about the pile of unfinished manuscripts I have. :)

    I'm trying to write a novel right now. I thought I was excited about the story, but lately ... I don't know. I'm just struggling to get into it, I guess. I'm just not feeling it. I keep thinking that if I can only re-immerse myself in it I'll be able to pick it up again.

    However, if that doesn't happen soon I may just have to table it a while longer. I hate to do that, (it's bad for my confidence levels) but after reading this I realized that there is no shame in putting my novel on hold.

    I just need to make sure it's for the right reasons ...

    ReplyDelete
  8. These are good points, Stephanie. You make me feel a little better about the pile of unfinished manuscripts I have. :)

    I'm trying to write a novel right now. I thought I was excited about the story, but lately ... I don't know. I'm just struggling to get into it, I guess. I'm just not feeling it. I keep thinking that if I can only re-immerse myself in it I'll be able to pick it up again.

    However, if that doesn't happen soon I may just have to table it a while longer. I hate to do that, (it's bad for my confidence levels) but after reading this I realized that there is no shame in putting my novel on hold.

    I just need to make sure it's for the right reasons ...

    ReplyDelete

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