It happened three times in a row over three consecutive years. I hit the 70,000-word mark, or roughly that. I was, all things considered, almost done with a whole book. And then I just … stopped.
I loved these books; adored these stories. One helped me through the grieving process after losing a close friend. Another found me out of the blue, I adopted it and made it my own, and fell in love with it. And the most recent one was the first time I ever allowed myself to tell “my” story through a fictional character, something that was challenging in the best way possible.
I didn’t just start them. I nearly told them all the way through, with some gaps here and there in each one, but that’s to be expected near the end of the first draft.
For whatever reason, I just couldn’t fill in those gaps. I just couldn’t bring myself to write until I could truly call them finished.
But why? Why, after working so hard and coming so close, did I just … quit?
You might actually already know the answer to this question if you’ve ever had similar problems finishing something you so excitedly began writing not all that long ago. Or maybe you don’t, and that’s why you clicked on this blog post — for an answer, or an explanation. Either way, all I can offer is a theory.
Put simply, we avoid completing writing projects for the same reason we put off watching the series finales of our favorite shows and stop reading just before we reach the last page.
We don’t like endings. We don’t like facing them. We don’t like the uncertainty that comes after them. And most of all, we don’t like putting things away or behind us. We want to hold onto the things that are important to us, the things that make us FEEL.
Sometimes that’s a book someone else wrote or a TV show someone else created. Sometimes it’s a story we started writing ourselves. Maybe it’s not the best story ever written, maybe it’s not the most original idea or we’re not completely proud of all its parts. But it’s something we made, and if we could, we would make that thing last as long as possible — maybe even forever.
Finishing those books would mean having to say goodbye to the characters I had fallen in love with. It would mean the end to the stories that I had spent so many years of my life completely immersed in.
And of course, it would mean that I’d probably have to edit and/or rewrite the things, and you can’t blame me for dreading that part of the process!
Here’s the truth: All good things must, someday, come to an end. You might not like it. You might try to run from this reality for as long as you can. But at some point, you have to take a deep breath and let it happen. Watch that last episode. Read that last page.
Write the end of your story. Fill in all the gaps. Call it finished — at least, for now.
It’s quite possible I won’t finish these projects. For one in particular, it’s just too late to go back. But there does come a point at which you do have to let go of a story — whether that means formally ending it and calling your first draft finished or setting it aside and accepting defeat.
Neither of these decisions is “right” or “wrong.” It is, when it comes down to it, nothing more than a choice. You are in a position that allows for complete control in this regard. You can choose to leave what you started unfinished, and you have every right to do so for your own reasons.
Or you can choose to do one of the hardest things you’ve ever done as a writer, and finish what you started.
By the end of May, I’m committing to finishing one of the three projects I almost gave up on. I am so close. I am terrified to call it finished, but I know it’s a decision I will not regret.
What about you?
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.