“What you make won’t always be good, make you money, or reach your desired audience. But if you finish it, it will at the very least be done… that’s the only way it has a chance of checking any of those boxes. Do things. Do them until they are done.”
– Jason Oberholtzer, editor and producer (Hustle Economy, pp. 23-24)
Out of all the creative projects you have started in the past year, how many have you actually finished? How many are you still working on? How many have you had to put to rest, unfinished?
I, as I’m sure many others do, can name past and current projects in each of these categories. The abandoned, unfinished ones being the most difficult to admit.
But I am not a chronic unfinisher. Unless there is a reasonable roadblock preventing me from finishing something, and I am forced to admit defeat, I finish what I start.
But many don’t. Which is why so many complain that they just can’t seem to ever finish anything.
Many writers and creatives struggle with something I like to call a Finishing Complex. They tangle themselves so unnecessarily in worries about What Happens When This Is Over that they stop before they ever get to Over.
I’m all for the claim that starting is better than nothing – you deserve all the praise and then some for acting on an idea. But you can’t just go through life dragging all your unfinished projects behind you. Not if you want to earn the right to call yourself a Successful Professional – whatever that means.
There are likely dozens of reasons why people start things but don’t finish them. The two plaguing writers the most, I’m going to guess, are these:
- The euphoria that comes with Starting Something New wears off – it stops being fun, so usually you just end up taking the easy way out and quitting, usually passively (gradually working on something less and less until it lays eternally forgotten)
- Other things get in the way – usually distractions you’re for whatever reason unable to overcome. You start binge-watching a new show on Netflix (DON’T DO IT) or you make the mistake of deciding to work on a new project without planning out how you’re also going to simultaneously work on finishing the current one.
There’s a possible third – you don’t think it’s good enough, so you just give up.
Here’s the cliche reality you’ve heard too many times already: writing is hard, getting published is harder, it’s not always going to be fun, it sometimes takes years to break into the business.
Here’s what you don’t hear often enough: the more often you quit before you’re done, the less likely you are to break that cycle someday.
If you want to succeed in writing, you have to train yourself to work until you’re done. This takes a lot of discipline – something else you’ll need to overcome this habit of just not wanting to get it done. You’re not lazy – you just have a weak skill. All weak skills can be strengthened – with effort, and hard work. It’s essential, if you want to be a finisher. Finishers, eventually, make money, and reach larger audiences, and are more proud of what they’ve accomplished.
Yeah, it’s too hard, you’re tired, you keep getting rejected, all the feedback you get feels like needles in your chest. None of that even matters if you aren’t able to follow through. Finishing is a skill – not just in writing, but all over the professional landscape. If you don’t know how to consistently finish things, who’s going to be able to rely on you to do so regularly – and pay you for it? Nobody.
You never know how a particular piece of writing will turn out. You might think something in progress is the worst thing you’ve ever written. Finish it anyway. If nothing else, finishing makes you feel more accomplished. It boosts your confidence. It helps build up your resilience. There are going to be times you’re responsible for writing something, and you don’t want to keep going, but you have to anyway. It’s not an option. What are you going to do when you get to that point?
Why should I keep writing when I’m bored?
Here’s the thing … if you’re bored writing it, someone else will be bored reading it. So if you’re losing interest, it’s up to you to reignite some kind of spark. You have all the power in the world to spice up your own work – use it. The thing is, you had an idea. Your brain came up with something good enough that you made the conscious decision to sit down and start writing. Just because it’s no longer shiny and new doesn’t mean you should abandon ship when you still have plenty of sailing to do. Just keep writing. Make it interesting – overly dramatic, if you have to. You’re not THAT bored – you’re looking for an easy way out. Stop making excuses.
I’m good at meeting deadlines – just not my own
If you’re someone who works well on deadline but can’t push yourself to finish anything on your own, you’re probably accountability dependent – you need someone or something to hold you accountable for doing your work and following through, or it’ll never happen. There’s nothing wrong with that – but if external accountability isn’t available, you do need to take some steps to learn how to set and meet your own deadlines. Otherwise, scout Facebook groups and other writing forums to see if a reliable accountability buddy is ready and willing to partner up.
But my writing really is awful!
Really – says who? Has anyone ever straight up told you, “You are a bad writer?” I highly doubt it. If you’re going off of your own opinions of your work, stop it. We’re not allowed to officially judge our own work, because 95 percent of the time, we’ll hate it and think it’s the worst piece of writing ever created. It’s normal to cringe at your own writing, but that doesn’t mean your writing is bad. If you’ve received negative feedback on your work from someone else, that also doesn’t mean you’ve done a bad job. It’s actually more disappointing if critics have nothing bad to say about your writing. There’s always going to be someone who feels the need to point out a flaw. Get over it.
How do you make money and grow your audience as a writer? By finishing what you start. Every project you finish is another chance at success. Pick one thing from your long list of Things You Want to Start and focus on finishing that one thing. Finishing doesn’t mean it has to be perfect. It means it has to be done. Done, in first-draft terms, still means a lot. Get to that point, so you can go even further.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.