All of us have at least one project we started but never got around to finishing.
Let’s be honest: Most of us probably have dozens.
There are many reasons writers who start projects don’t finish them. But maybe if we talked a little more about some of them, more writers would be able to work through their struggles before and while they work so they can successfully complete more things.
The rewards that come with finishing what you start go beyond financial gain or recognition. With each new completed project you learn something new — something you are not very likely to forget.
It’s really, really hard to write a complete story — but it is ALWAYS worth it.
Most writers start out as readers, and when you spend a lot of time reading other people’s work, it can start to seem like storytelling is a total no-brainer. “This is probably so easy,” you think. “I could do that! I’m totally going to do it!”
And then you start trying to do it and you realize oh wow this isn’t easy at all what was I thinking?
For me personally, learning that writing wasn’t as easy as it looked was exactly the kind of surprise I needed to kick myself into gear. I wanted to write a story like the dozens of stories I had already read. I couldn’t imagine not doing that simply because I wasn’t quite sure how to get my characters from point A to point B. Writing got hard. I learned I either had to walk away or accept that “hard” was would be my new normal.
Many, many aspiring writers go into their first projects excited to write — ecstatic to tell their story. They don’t necessarily expect it to be the easiest thing they’ve ever done, but when they hit their first major roadblock, it’s just extremely difficult to maintain the same level of motivation and/or excitement. ESPECIALLY if you’re doing all this alone, which most newer writers are.
This is not an easy journey. For some, it will prove much more difficult than expected.
But the challenge is worth the many hardships you will likely face along the way. Admittedly, it’s been a while since I have finished a “big” project. But I will never forget how it feels to finish something you have spent months working on and realize all your frustration, sweat, and sleepless nights actually produced something amazing.
Instant gratification is not something writers should ever expect from their work. You just can’t get through the daily grind constantly disappointed that no one is there to push you forward. It’s all you. You have to write the story. You have to put in the time and the work and you have to do it knowing you’re going to have to rely on your own praise, your own hope, your own faith, to get through.
But it feels really good to emerge on the other side, smiling. There isn’t another feeling like it in the whole world.
Your story will change as you write it. Let it change.
My current work in progress started out as a collection of journals and transcripts because I was itching to get creative with a different storytelling format. I have since almost completely eliminated that concept after realizing first-person POV was too limited for the kind of story I wanted to tell.
This book would not have turned into what it has become if I had refused to allow such a big change to happen. Far too many aspiring writers get too attached to their outlines. Once the plan is in place, they convince themselves it’s all set and can’t be altered. I’m convinced, based on my own experiences, that the best stories are the ones that surprise the writer as much as they do the reader.
And what better way to be surprised than to let your story reveal its true self to you as you go?
You might have what seems like a great plan — written down or in your head — when you sit down to write something. This is great — it’s a good starting point. A writer needs some kind of motivation to get started, and for many of us, having that rough outline or being able to picture the trajectory of our tale. But it’s not the final decision. It can’t be, for creativity’s sake.
Don’t lock yourself into something pre-planned just because it was your original idea or vision for how things were supposed to go. If you feel your story should go a certain way, and that’s not the way you initially intended it to go, release your personal expectations of what your story could have been and let it grow. Trust your gut. Stories speak to us. It’s up to us to listen to what they’re trying to say.
Oh, also, you change too.
I have a theory that many writers stick to writing “safe” stories — and get bored with and abandon them — because they are afraid of what telling more risky stories will do to them.
We’re all at least a little bit concerned about what others think or how potential future readers might react to something we write. What we don’t talk about as much is the anxiety that surfaces when we realize telling a particular story — even if it isn’t exactly OUR story — will expose a part of ourselves we think we aren’t ready to display.
Sometimes, it’s even a part of ourselves we’re convinced we aren’t ready to face.
When you write a short story or a book or anything that requires making deep connections with people you may never meet, you have to be vulnerable. You have to be brave. And you have to be honest. Always.
I am a different person now than I was when I started this project. I always thought that was just something people said to be dramatic or to make a point — “writing this thing changed me.” But I mean it. I am still ME, I still have the same goals and hopes and dreams, but the way I see the world is different now. I don’t know how to thank an imaginary person who does not technically exist for changing my life but uh … thank you.
If you want to tell a story that is impactful and that makes your readers feel things and motivates them to change, you firs thave to be open to being impacted. You have to be willing to absorb the emotional weight of your characters, and you have to allow yourself to be changed. That is how you convey the messages you are trying to send. You show the reader it is okay to be moved by being moved yourself.
Writing stories will always be harder than you expect — no matter how long you’ve been doing this. You will have to learn to trust your gut if you want to tell the best version of your story that you possibly can. And you will have to face the things you’d rather not.
But in doing all this, you won’t just end up with a finished story.
You’ll end up a better version of 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.