The Blank Page is a new weekly series on Novelty Revisions dedicated to any writer who is just beginning their journey or starting again after a long pause. Check back every Monday for more tips and inspiration.
All writers fail. All writers fail more than once. Even successful writers publish flops.
But it’s important to note that “failing” doesn’t necessarily mean you did something wrong or that you’re somehow regressing in your skill level. Especially when we’re talking about unfinished work.
You should always try to finish what you start. It’s not always an easy thing to do, but the more you do it, the more you’ll build up your confidence and train yourself to honor your commitment to what you’re starting.
However, not finishing things isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Not always, anyway.
Why do writers abandon projects before they finish them? We’ve all done it — even those of us who hesitate to admit as such. Each new project is so sparkly and exciting. You dive right into it because it seems like this is the best idea you’ve ever had. But there almost always comes a point at which that sparkly and exciting endeavor doesn’t seem so shimmery anymore.
One reason this happens is simply humanity’s draw to the thrill of starting something new. A brand-new story is exciting in large part because it’s something you have never done before. Once the novelty of it all wears off, it’s easy to lose interest in pursuing something that doesn’t “feel” new.
But there are other reasons people jump ship before the journey truly begins. Fear is a big one. Many aspiring writers are afraid that what they’re currently writing somehow isn’t “good enough” or that people will judge it so harshly that they’ll … what, exactly? Ruin a reputation that doesn’t currently exist? Review-bomb a book you haven’t even finished writing yet? The specifics are unclear.
And still another: Self-confidence, or a lack thereof. We doubt ourselves, often, because we have unintentionally made ourselves dependent on other people’s opinions and feedback to sustain our productivity. When you’re writing alone at your desk and no one has had the opportunity to read your work, it’s common to start questioning whether you’re even doing the work “right.”
We abandon projects because we like to chase shiny objects. And because we’re scared of the uncertainty of the future. And many of us simply lack the years of experience it usually takes to build up the kind of confidence needed to write continuously when no one’s watching.
Time management and “commitment issues” are also common problems, but you probably already knew that.
Is it a sin to leave one work-in-progress so you can start another one? I’ve seen many writers — even highly successful authors — create “ten commandments” lists for writers over the years. “Thou shalt not cheat on your work in progress” and all that. And for the most part, I don’t disagree. But there are always exceptions.
Here’s the thing: It’s normal to get a good way into a novel or blog post or whatever you happen to be writing and realize what you have in front of you just isn’t working. Ideas are sometimes hard to visualize if you don’t write them down, so it’s often necessary to lay it all out on paper and/or on a screen, even write a decent portion of something, so you can see whether or not it’s feasible.
Sometimes it isn’t. And that’s OK. Not everything you try is going to work — and you just can’t always know either way until you give it a chance.
But this becomes a legitimate problem when you find yourself unable to finish anything you start — rather, you start something new in the middle of trying to finish something “old” every single time. It’s OK to do this occasionally as you’re experimenting, but if you’re never finishing anything, it might be a good time to stop and re-evaluate what you’re really trying to accomplish with what you’re currently working on.
The reality is, if you never finish anything, you’ll never really advance in your skill level and/or career. And even if you do, it’s going to take a long time and a lot of constant course-correction. That’s more added stress than you deserve.
Writers learn from every experience — even the ‘bad’ ones. If you find yourself unable to finish a writing project because you’re not sure it will “do well” or you don’t know if it’s worth continuing, it’s important to keep in mind that most of the things you write — especially in the very beginning — just aren’t going to turn out great.
Does this mean you’re a bad writer or that you shouldn’t follow your dreams or set big writing goals? Absolutely not. It just means that you’re a beginner and you have a lot to learn.
And the only way to learn how to write captivating, emotional, publishable stories is to keep writing not-so-great ones and take away what you’ve learned from writing those to keep writing better ones.
Yes, you can learn plenty from not finishing something. But it’s so much easier — and let’s be honest, more fun — to look at a story or blog post or article when it’s finished to assess what you did well and what you’d like to try to do differently or better next time.
Finish the project anyway. Even if it’s not great or you’ll never publish it. Learn what you can from it and move on. It’s not a waste of time. It’s just part of being a beginner.
And those things you don’t get around to finishing? They’re just products of your progress. Limit them. But don’t be ashamed of them.
Just starting out as a writer or returning from an extended hiatus? Let me know how I can help. Just drop a comment below with your questions/concerns — I am here to serve.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is an editor and writer, and a 12-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food, and Star Wars.