• Stop Starting and Start Finishing Your Writing

    Posted Posted by Guest Writer in Strategies     Comments 7 comments

    Success Starts HereHello, my name is Justine, and I’m a starter.

    I start far more writing projects than I finish.

    I have new ideas every day, demanding ideas that demand to be started.

    I love the feeling of starting. I love it so much that I’ll take starting over continuing or (gulp) finishing any day of the week.

    Yup, I’m a starter, and I’m not alone. I recently received the following email from writer Melissa M.:

    “I have just taken a look at the diagnostic tool you sent me and it does hit on a few problems. One of my bigger problems is that I seem to be a ‘starter.’ I have started about twenty four books, but I have only ‘finished’ (meaning I have written a first draft) one. I also feel that the one book I finished is not that good. I am sure it is a confidence issue, as I know I am my worst critic. I have tons of ideas, I am just not sure what to do with them all. If there was a job out there that only required a person to generate ideas, I would be perfect for it. I love coming up with ideas, and I would love to just hand them off and watch someone else run with them, but I am also determined to take at least some of them and FINISH something! Thank you for the tool, I hope to utilize it and start moving in the right direction soon.”

    A big thank you to Melissa for sharing her writing-related challenges with me, a fellow starter, and now with all of you. It helps to know we’re not alone.

    [Tweet “”I have tons of ideas, I am just not sure what do to with them all.””]

    With twenty-four books started, Melissa really is an idea machine. And although it doesn’t always feel that way, that’s actually a good problem to have. It means she’ll never want for material. That said, being a starter comes with its own challenges, and that’s what you’ll have to tackle if you ever hope to be finishing your writing projects.

    With my clients at WBN and in my own writing, I find that often the culprit is a lack of focus due to being overwhelmed. We can’t work on everything; we have to work on one thing. We don’t swallow a novel whole; we read word by word, sentence by sentence, page by page until we reach the end. We don’t run a marathon in one giant leap; we go step by step, mile by mile until we cross the finish line. You get the picture. For better or worse, one at a time is the only way to get our projects done.

    To that end, I’m going to share with you the tools I shared with Melissa in order to break out of starterism and into finishism, step by manageable step.


    Step 1: Pick a project

    This might feel like the hardest part. All of your ideas are good ideas, but which one are you most passionate about? Which one do you think about most? Which one will keep you coming back day after day? That’s the one you should choose.

    If the answer isn’t immediately obvious, make a list of the three most likely candidates, then reread what of each you’ve written so far.

    Now choose! I mean it. Be brutal. Be discerning. You’ve got to start somewhere.

    [Tweet “”All of your ideas are good ideas, but which one are you most passionate about?””]


    Step 2: Make time to write

    There’s no shortage of advice out there on finding writing time. The truth is, you don’t find it; you make it. Learn how with our free Time Management Questionnaire, which will help you identify pockets of time throughout your day and use that time for your creative work.


    Step 3: Be kind to yourself

    “I know I am my worst critic,” Melissa says. Aren’t we all.

    Try this exercise the next time you’re being hard on yourself:

    Split a sheet of paper into two columns: on the left, record your negative thoughts about yourself and your work/writing/whatever as they come to you; on the right, write what your best friend would say in response. Now review the two columns. Which has more reality?


    Step 4: Start writing, and don’t stop

    When Melissa and I spoke, we probed more deeply into her current writing process and discovered that she’s easily distracted by story research. If that’s you too, make use of placeholders. Rather than launching into your research right then and there, insert a note into your document reminding you to return to it later.

    Research isn’t the only distraction, of course. There’s YouTube, your favorite TV show, your kids, your job, your own racing thoughts, and a host of other buggers hell-bent on keeping you from finishing your writing. And there’s a solution for all of them . . .

    Once you start writing, don’t stop. Come hell or high water, don’t stop. Stopping is for starters. Are you a starter or a finisher? What do you want to be?


    Discussion and Further Reading

    Are you a starter, a finisher, or both? What strategies have you used for finishing your writing projects? Or to move from starterism to finishism? How many different writing projects can you successfully juggle at one time? Let us know the answers to these questions in the comments below, or ask a question of your own. Or write about whatever floats your boat. We just want to hear from you.

    And unless you’re about to get started finished on a writing project, take a peek at some related posts:

    When Should I Stop Rewriting?

    Conquer Your Fear of Writing … By Writing

    5 Strategies For Generating Story Ideas

    Finding a Writing Space in Your Home


    Justine Tal Goldberg, ownerWriteByNight owner Justine Duhr is an award-winning writer and editor of both fiction and nonfiction. Her work has appeared in Anomalous Press, Whiskey Island, Fringe Magazine, The Review Review, and other publications. She holds an MFA in creative writing and has provided writing instruction at Vassar College and Emerson College.

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    Glynis Jolly

    The timing for this post was perfect, Justine. Occasionally I’ve been sending you an email telling you how I’m doing on my WiP. Well, it stalled. It stalled at a little over 50,000 words, just a few chapters before the climax. Yes, it’s because I feel overwhelmed, big time! Moreover, my writing in this project has become terrible. It is anyway but this is much worse. I can’t really pinpoint when in the story I started flaking out so going back to find a cutting point looks impossible. I decided to let it sit for a short while and start… Read more »

    Justine Tal Goldberg

    It’s great to hear from you, Glynis. Thanks for weighing in. Re: “my writing in this project has become terrible,” stop right there, my friend. Who is that harsh judgment helping? No one, that’s who. Return to Step 3 immediately! You have got to be kind to yourself. This is a secret to success. Learn it, practice it, do it again and again until it becomes second nature. It is an absolute must. Do me a favor, okay? Do the best friend exercise I lay out in Step 3 above then sit down with your WIP. Let’s see what happens.… Read more »

    Scott McClelland

    I’m a beginner in the writing game, I got started less than a year and a half ago. I find myself bombarded with story ideas. I have five documents started. Some are a single paragraph, others are 1,000+ words or more. I think what Justine mentioned about choosing which to work on is interesting. I have one story that’s sitting at 5,000+ words that I’m afraid to wrestle with. Should I do battle with it? Right now my “system” is to work on whatever story is keeping me from falling asleep after my head hits the pillow at night. So… Read more »

    Well said, Scott. I love that plank anecdote. It illustrates perfectly the power of fear and the possibilities that open up when we learn to manage it. A big part of that learning is finding joy in the process. School teaches us that writing is work. It’s hard and it’s serious. No smiling allowed. Well, yeah, writing *is* work and it *is* hard, but it doesn’t have to be so darn serious all the time. We can all stand to ask ourselves, “What do I love about writing? What’s fun about it?” Hang onto those answers and return to them… Read more »

    K.L. Dimago

    What good advice and a great post, Justine! I have often found in the past that I am just the same as you, or Melissa, or many others who have tons of started ideas that aren’t finished. I actually have a Word document dedicated just to my different ideas for potential stories someday. One thing that has worked for me is actually a piece of advice you mentioned in this post: picking one and sticking with it! I’ll admit I am also easily distracted and at times I lose the motivation for one idea, or grow bored with it, and… Read more »

    Justine Tal Goldberg

    Great points, K.L. Thanks so much for sharing your experience. Toggling between two projects is a tactic I often employ in my own writing and also suggest to certain clients whose process calls for it. It doesn’t work for everyone, but what does, right? Especially when your two pieces are different genres, switching your attention from one to the other can feel like a breath of fresh air. Weighing the effort, I think, goes hand in hand with locating your passion (Step 1). Any amount of work will feel like too much for a project you don’t care about, and… Read more »

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