For some odd, unfathomable reason, there is a gremlin in the heads of most of us, and that gremlin’s sole purpose is to screw up every wonderful thing we try to do.
If you are lucky enough to be one of the few people who don’t suffer this, there is no point for you to keep reading. Go. Do something wonderful.
For the rest of us, we know this shadow creature all too well. Call it what you like: Procrastination. Resistance. Mister Lazybones. Satan. Whatever its name, it’s there, lurking. Its dark hand on your shoulder. Whispering demotivational crap into your subconscious, or distracting you with shiny objects, or giving you the idea for something else prematurely, coaxing you to drop what you’re doing and work endlessly on other things…
…but finishing nothing.
As a writer, when you start a project, your job is to give it a beginning, a middle, and a satisfying end. Sometimes you lose interest, or don’t know where to go next, or get stuck because the story has gone off in some wrong direction. Sometimes the story just doesn’t work. It’s perfectly okay for you to abandon something and work on something more rewarding.
But (and you knew there was a “but” coming) at some point you need to finish something. You may be a writer because you write, but there’s no point in writing unless you intend for someone to read what you write. Even if you’re writing something to be read after you die, it needs to be finished.
If you find you have 30 things started and nothing is finished, it’s time to put and end on something just to know what it feels like.
When I was young, and we’re talking grade school, if I didn’t know what to do next with some little story I was scribbling — with a No. 2 pencil on blue-lined binder paper — I would end it abruptly with this line:
But suddenly and without warning, hydrogen bombs began exploding everywhere, and they all died in screaming atomic hellfire. The end.
My problem then, and occasionally now, is I had no idea how to end the story. When Monty Python didn’t know how to end a skit, they did something parallel to my atomic ending, and would drop a 10 ton weight on the characters, or have Terry Gilliam animate God’s foot coming down out of the clouds and and squash the the entire scene. The trick to avoid this, I’ve learned, is to not actually start a story until you know exactly what the ending is. Sometimes it’s best to even write the ending first.
It helps, it really does, and you don’t even have to use that ending — it just gives you something to aim at. Most times a different ending will form all by itself. Sometimes it will even happen a lot sooner than you thought it would.
Another idea is, if you find you just can’t finish something, is to write flash fiction — stories of 1000 words or shorter. Or write some poetry. Haiku, even — with only three lines, that’s all there is: a beginning, a middle, and an ending.
If the problem is something deeper, where you can’t bring yourself to actually do the writing — where you’re fighting the evil, demonic gremlin of Procrastination — the best way to combat that is to pick a time everyday to write, and during that time, that is all you are allowed to do. Even if it’s just an hour a day. Just write.
Set an alarm to remind you. Set a timer to give you the time. During that time there is no phone calls, no conversations, no Internet. No TV. Put earphones in your ears, turn on some pre-selected music that helps you with your creativity, open your manuscript and start typing.
No excuses. No, you don’t need to do dishes instead. Not during this hour. You don’t need to check email. You don’t need to call your grandmother. IN THIS HOUR you need to put your fingers on your keyboard, or your pen to paper, and conjure words into existence. No judgement is allowed, no re-writing. One word follows another, and one sentence follows another, and one paragraph follows another.
Procrastination will try at every insidious opportunity to derail you. If it fails to distract you, or discourage you, it will then try and make you fall asleep. At least that happens to me. I could be hopped up on energy drinks and the moment I start making progress on a manuscript I will often, out of the blue, nod off. This could have something to do with the mind, deep in a creative state, being close to that of the dream state. Maybe. But more likely it’s that gremlin, determined to see me fail, flicking my pineal gland with it’s dark clawlike finger and causing me to lose consciousness.
Pardon my language, but I hate that little f**ker.
You will never completely defeat Procrastination. You may quash it for a while, keep it at bay, but it will always be waiting and ready to work its way back in, usually from your blind side and without you knowing. All you can do is plan for it, and have countermeasures. I’m not going to go into details here, because that would be a whole book — and in fact there are libraries worth of books on the subject, two good ones of which I’ll list at the end.
Suffice to say, if you want to be a writer, you must not only write, but you must finish something. If you’re diving in and trying to write a novel, but you’ve never written a short story, maybe you should consider writing a short story instead. Or, like mentioned above, some flash fiction, and then work your way to longer forms. But whatever you do, endeavor to finish. And I don’t mean by dropping hydrogen bombs on the story, or dropping a 10 Ton weight on it, or having God stomp it like a bug. I mean a real, proper ending, one which satisfies your readers.
That being said, in your first draft, it doesn’t have to be perfect, because once you’ve finally finished, there comes The Editing. But that’s another subject.
And with that, I’ll finish this article.