If you’re a good starter, but a bad finisher, how are you ever going to get your novel written? That’s a question many fiction writers face.
Rebecca posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:
Is there a magic pill for someone like me?
I can’t seem to complete my first ever “bad” first draft. I’ve berated myself to no end as I struggle to complete just one of the many novels I’ve started and stopped writing over the last couple years, never able to get past the first couple hundred pages, which is when I tend to hit a block, usually seconding guess my story. And yes, I admit, am a chapter-one-aholic (Re-reading and re-writing chapter one . . . a lot!)
Writing classes, workshops, and conferences; critique groups; following blogs like Randy’s; reading a ton of craft books (including “Writing Fiction For Dummies); reading specific genre novels; writing every day for hours . . . Snowflaking, outlining, pantsing, storyboarding . . . I feel like I’ve done it all in hopes of gaining the willpower to keep moving forward. And I continue to do each these things, all the while trying to reach my goal to finally type the words “The End” on the blank last page of my completed novel.
I love writing, and I’ve been writing every day since I fell in love with the art a little over two years ago. I have so many stories I’m interested in writing, filed away — on my computer, on many sticky notes, in stacks of notebooks, in my ever-buzzing brain . . . Is there something out there I haven’t tried to cure me of this so-called hitting-a-wall illness?
One thing I haven’t tried is a writing mentor. Would someone like me benefit from a personal writing mentor to guide me, coach me, push me along the way? Could that be the magic pill I need to get me off the starting block and finish a first draft so I can move on to the next steps?
Any advice — or a magic pill! — you have to offer is greatly appreciated, Randy! Your blog has so many wonderful articles with great advice and interesting tidbits. Thank you for that!
Randy sez: If I had a magic pill to help people finish what they start, I’d be Xtremely rich. I started working on a magic pill like that once, but . . . then I got interested in something else.
I plead guilty to the same sin. I start more things than I finish. My only consolation is that it’s probably impossible to do the reverse. (How could you finish more things than you start?)
A mentor might be the answer. When you go to the gym, you probably work out a lot harder if you have a personal trainer there to crack the whip or urge you on.
I’d love to have a mentor, but I don’t. Instead, I have my writing buddies, and when I need help in getting things done, I turn to them.
Rebecca, do you have a writing buddy? Somebody to whom you can be accountable?
There are two basic kinds of accountability: carrots and sticks.
A carrot is a reward for good behavior; a stick is a penalty.
I tend to respond better to sticks. When I start having motivational problems, I talk to my writing buddy John, and we set up specific behaviors that I have to meet, on pain of paying a $10 fine. I can afford the fine, but I’d rather eat broken glass than pay a fine for something as stupid as not getting out of bed on time. So this works well for me.
Rebecca, for you, the desired behavior is to produce a certain quota of pages per day for your novel. (You probably want to exclude weekends.) Or possibly you might want to produce a certain quota per week. The rule is that the pages have to be on one particular novel and you’re not allowed to quit until the novel is finished. No excuses allowed. You either put out the pages, or you pay up the fine.
See if this works for you. Find a writing buddy and set up an accountability system. You’ll be amazed what you can do when you have to. And you’ll be amazed at how small a fine it takes to produce the right behavior.
If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in public on this blog, hop on over to my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page and submit your question. I’ll answer them in the order they come in.
It’s been a while since I originally posted this question. We’re all busy with this thing called life so I completely understand the delay. That being said, I’m super thrilled by your timely response today, Randy, as this is sort of what I was hoping you’d say. And it came to me at the perfect time because I can now say that your advice was pretty much spot on.
While I have several writing buddies, they are all amateurs like myself — and too easy to break down when I beg them to allow me to “change things up a bit and hand in a freshly updated chapter.” But I have also met several published authors and writing teachers in my short journey. And with that I saw great potential in finding someone to give me that much-needed kick in the pants.
So, to update you on my status . . .
I hired a mentor at a very reasonable monthly fee. (Randy, last month I would have paid you almost any amount for that magic pill! Wink, wink.) Anyway, this mentor is an author I’d taken a class from, and I always kept her in the back of my mind as someone I’d love to have as an editor someday when I’d finally finish a stinkin’ novel. When I called her, she immediately accepted my request to hire her as my mentor. Our personalities mesh well and she’s the perfect fit for my writing genre.
We have now been working together for two months and things have been going splendidly. The first month was a brainstorming session with me, myself and I. I also researched, plotted, sketched, etc. During that time I was contractually allowed to call or email her at anytime. Let me just say, she got quite a few of each. But she was there when I needed her and always had the best strategy that would pick me up and send me on my way.
At the start of June I was to begin writing. No more brainstorming, no more researching, no more character sketching, etc. Just write, write, write. And that’s just what I’ve done. Of course, this wasn’t the magic pill to keep away my writing demon. It reared it’s ugliness often. But my mentor helped me slay that demon each time.
Our current strategy is to have me turn in work at the end of each month. We may have to change that to weekly or bi-weekly since I still have the tendency to go back and fiddle with things.
The major incentive (similar to something like paying $10 each time I miss a deadline) is to complete the novel earlier than anticipated, thus completing the contract and the payments and then being able to move into the true editing phase. My personal goal is to complete more than the 20 pages per month we agreed on in the contract.
And I’m happy to say that I’ve done just that! I rocked it this month! I will be turning in about 40 pages tomorrow morning.
Thanks again, Randy, for all your fabulous advice and your inspirational words that give us all the courage to be writers. You rock!
Morgan L. Busse says
That’s great Rebecca 🙂
I like to add to this by asking the question, is this a motivational issue or a mechanical issue? When ever I do any kind of writing project; Short story, technical writing or even a business proposal/contract, I often start with the end in mind. I find that it’s best to do an outline and start with the end and add from the bottom up.
In fact my writers block issues are never a matter of getting started, or seeing a beginning or a middle, but the end, or some aspect of the story eludes me.
It seems that Rebecca’s was motivation, or maybe the need for a project manager. I also congratulate her for seeing the problem for what is was and taking the appropriate steps.
I’m sure the answer to my issue is more of mechanics and requires a “try again and again until you get it right” approach, or is there something else?
Carrie L. Lewis says
I could have written Rebecca’s question right down to the smallest punctuation mark! It’s easy for me to write, write, write.
The problem is hitting a brick wall at about 20,000 words and never going back. I started so many projects last year, it’s a cryin’ shame, but the fact that I finished nothing is an even bigger cryin’ shame.
I was going to ask Randy if pausing in the middle of writing to do more design work is allowable. Can I count words of design toward words written on any given day.
But I see from Rebecca’s response, that she was given one month to plan, then she began writing with no looking back.
I guess that answers my question.
Thanks to Rebecca for her original question and to Randy for his answer. I’m hoping something in both will stick in my brain and help me, too!
Obinna Ozoigbo says
This is a very interesting question. So many people, beginning from the first century, have abandoned their writing projects, with little or no zeal to continue. For this reason, the magic pill would sell like hot cake, should Randy manufacture one for writers in this twenty-first century. Almost every writer seems to have this problem. I am one of them. We are in a very busy world, after all.
Obinna Ozoigbo says
Yes, we live in a very busy world where 24hours seem no longer enough for a day. But that is no excuse for any writer who wants to make it to the top! We should be able to create the time from the 24hours to finish our projects! There is nothing one cannot achieve in this world if one sets one’s mind to it by staying focused, without looking either way, mentor or no mentor.
D. J. Carter says
Three things I have discovered in myself that prevent my finishing. One is that I become very attached to my characters and don’t want to say good-bye to them!
Another is fear of commitment. Finishing means I have to face finding out whether my work is really as good as I think it is. And the third, I am as afraid of success as I am of failure! Do I really want a lot of international razzle-dazzle? Complete loss of privacy? Maybe there is something to be said for being simply ordinary. Fame is something I would prefer to reach for rather than achieve.
The quota is a great idea.
Stephen King writes 2000 words a day, everyday.That’s huge.
My quota is 1000 words a day 6 days a week: 6000 words weekly. That allows me to finish a novel within 3 months (1st draft at least).
Time unity (don’t know what’s the proper wording in English) is important.
Elizabeth Varadan says
I am really enjoying the newsletter, and this discussion. This is my first visit. I find that the right writing buddies really do help, I.e. The kind who really DO want to see the next chapter and tell you both what is working for them as readers and what isn’t. But, I’m glad Rebecca found her mentor, because she sounds like a good writer.
Pam Halter says
I find having a deadline works wonders for me. Not necessarily a self-imposed deadline, but more like, I’m going to a conference and meeting with an editor so this HAS to be done deadline.
I was having trouble finishing a YA novel last year. I met an agent at a conference who was interested and I told her it would be finished in ONE MONTH. Yikes!! I came down with swine flu the final week, so I propped myself up on the couch with pillows, fired up the lap top, armed myself with hot tea and Tylenol and wrote. Sure, much of what I wrote was terrible, but when I emerged out of my feverish, muscle aching stupor, I had something to work with, and I finished just in time. If I had not had that deadline, I would have done nothing by lay there. And who knows if the novel would be finished?
Deadlines are your friends when you need to get something finished.
Ian Scofield says
Thank you for your article! I respond best to having a chart that charts my words per day and if I try to beat the days before or at least see my word count go up on it I am happy. This even works with the editing process because it allows you to see how much you have edited.
I have a similar fear of finishing things. I have started and stopped 3 novels in the past few years. What changed it for me was a surprise challenge. Nanowrimo. A friend bet that I couldn’t do it… so a few of us gathered together and started writing (not out of spite at all).
We told everyone we knew that we were doing it so embarrassment level would be high should we fail. I gave daily updates to the people that cared and just typed. One letter at a time.
I rolled in at 50,026 words, what can I say I am not an overachiever. But I did finish, we all did, and whatever scary demon I thought was waiting for me at “the end” wasn’t there.
I think the main thing I learned about myself is I am a deadline person, if I don’t have a definite finish point, I just won’t ever finish.
Guilty! I just bought this product called Ninety Days to Your Novel, and a book on writing good begginings, a webinar that matches the novel-writing book, and a book for plot resing for my second draft. I plan to use the materials along with Randy’s two lecture series. I plan to use the lecture series for the outline, and the ninety-day for the actual writing. I can’t finish what I start either, which is why I bought these things and more.
I won too. What I learned is that I too, need a definite deadline. So I bought some things to help me along.
pute sexy says
Еuhhh êtes vous sûr de ce que vous nous écrivez ?