Why It’s Important To Finish Your Shit

Maybe you’re doing NaNoWriMo. Maybe you’re not. Honestly, I don’t give a pony’s patoot — NaNoWriMo is, always, and has been a bit of a stalking horse. It creeps up on you and you think it’s fun and neat and there’s this whole community vibe and then suddenly a goblin jumps out and bellows: “HA HA SUCKER NOW YOU’RE A WRITER. YOU ARE CURSED!” And then the camera pans up and you shake your fists and screamweep into the rain, because you can already feel the penmonkey hex taking hold in your blood and your marrow.

I may have overdramatized that a bit.

Point is: whether you’re doing NaNoWriMo or not, I want to remind you:

It is vital that you learn to complete what you begin.

Finish. Your. Shit.

I know. You’re stammering, “Guh, buh, whuh — but I’m not really feeling it, I have a better idea in mind, it’s hard, I think I’d rather just lay on my belly and plunge my face into a plate of pie.”

I’d rather do that, too.

I mean, c’mon. Prone-position face-pie? Delicious. Amazing. Transformative.

(Okay, that sounds kinda sexual, doesn’t it? You do what you like with the image.)

But, seriously.

Look at me in my eyes.

In my cold, dead, glassy eyes.

Gaze into the two palantir that have been unceremoniously shoved into my sockets. Do you see what I see? I see you not finishing your story. And I see me shoving you into the colorful ball pit at McDonald’s, except the ball pit isn’t filled with colorful balls, but rather, scorpions and shame.

Here’s why I think it’s essential to learn how to finish what you begin when it comes to writing, no matter how much you don’t want to, no matter how much you’re “not feeling it,” no matter how much pie you have placed on the floor in anticipation of laying there and eating it all.

1. It Trains You

Writing a novel is not a natural state.

Telling stories is — “Hey, Dan, you hear what happened at work today? A guy took a shit in the pasta extruder.” But the stories we tell to friends and family tend to be short, punchy, and very personal. Sitting down and making up a much longer story, and then shaping that story into something resembling a brick, well, that’s a whole other matter. It doesn’t come naturally and so you have to train yourself to write these things. And part of writing them is…?

That’s right, class. Finishing them.

And so you need to develop the discipline and conditioning to complete your work.

2. The More You Finish, The More You Finish

Your writing career can be given over to inertia or to momentum. Give into inertia and you slow down, cowed by resistance into stopping. But over time, writing becomes a bit more frictionless — it never feels precisely comfortable (for me, though I do love it so, I still have writing days that feel like I’m swaddled head to do in itchy asbestos footy pajamas), but it gets easier. You gain momentum. And you keep it… as long as you keep it. It feeds itself. Writing books is a hungry beast — but long as you keep shoveling in the word count, it’ll keep belching out the story. And part of this process is finishing.

Failing to finish means giving into inertia. It means losing your momentum.

3. It Makes You Feel Like, Holy Fuckspackle, I Can Actually Do This

Writing is a little like running. It’s painful and gawky at first. And then later, after you’ve done it a bunch? It’s still painful and gawky. But! But at least you can go farther and you can go faster. Once you hit a certain time or distance, you’ve broken that barrier. Which means you can do it again tomorrow. Finishing your work is a triumphant moment. It’s trumpets and cookies and good drugs and ropes of sexual fluids hanging from the light fixtures like Christmas tinsel. It’s awesome. And crossing that threshold tells you: this is a thing you can do. This is a thing you can do again. You’ve got it, now. You’ve got that little personal milestone tucked away in your pocket or your jewelry box or your butthole or wherever it is you keep your personal milestones.

(I keep mine tucked away in my mouth, like a hamster with a beloved Cheeto.)

4. A Finished Thing Is Imperfect — But Fixable

By now I’ve said it a billion times but: writing is when we make the words, editing is when we make them not shitty. You’re not feeling hot about your draft now, and hell, maybe even after you finish you’ll be like, ennh? But just realize: it’s fixable. You reach the end of the work and now you have the whole blob of clay to work with. You can spin it into anything you want — a vase, a bowl, a creepy ceramic serial killer mask, a napkin holder, a dildo rack. And I promise you with unswerving certainty that if you finish what you begin that when it comes time to fix this lumpy mess on the potter’s wheel, that a shirtless Patrick Swayze will massage you to success.

*receives note*

Okay, as it turns out, the lawyers are saying I can’t promise you that. So it’s not true.

*wink wink*

*receives note*

Okay, they’re saying I shouldn’t wink either.

*elbow nudge*

5. I Won’t Yell At You

I think that pretty much spells itself out. If you don’t finish what you begin, I won’t have to find your house, stand outside with a boombox, and play a screeching cacophony from it that sounds like me drunk and screaming myself hoarse at you for not finishing your work. Also, I might also play a little Quiet Riot, Cum on Feel the Noize just because?

6. It Prevents Authorial Adultery

The other day, Author Chris Holm (@chrisfholm) said on the Twitters that there should really be a German word for ‘being tempted to start a new book before finishing the old.’ Now, I dunno if he meant reading a new book or writing one, but what I do know is that, one of the chiefmost reasons I would once quit writing a book was to start writing a whole other book. (I call this ‘porking the new manuscript behind the shed while the old one wanders around, looking for you.’)

So, I said to Herr Doktor Holm that the German word might be Der Buchehebruch, aka, “Book Adultery.” Or, if you want a more literal translation of my shed commentary: Fick die neue Handschrift hinter dem Schuppen, während die alte um wandert, sucht für Sie. Or, perhaps: Neuemanuskriptwerfenficken.

Whatever.

Point is, a lot of the things we do as writers are given over to habit. We can develop bad habits (chewing our fingernails, failing to backup our work, shed-fucking a new manuscript), or we can develop good ones (the opposite of those other things I just said). Develop the habit that helps you finish your work. Prevent neuemanuskriptwerfenficken by keeping that new manuscript in mind (take some quick notes, write a logline, then move on) while actually finishing your current one.

7. Because Learning How To Write An Ending Is Important

The ending is part of every story. You need to learn to write them, which means… you actually need to write them. A story isn’t a story without its end, just as a snake isn’t a snake if you cut it in half. Yes, that is a dubious scientific assertion, but whatever, it works for the metaphor so leave me alone or I’ll shove you in the scorpions-and-shame-pit again.

Don’t skip this ending. Complete the circuit. Learn how to do this thing.

8. Because Never Mind, Just Finish Your Shit Because I Said So

What else do you want me to say, here? Have you ever read a book? Yeah? Did it have an ending? I bet it did. I bet it didn’t just stop at page 252, with the characters about to storm the Laser Castle to fight their nemesis, Evil Steve. So, what the fuck?

Finish your shit.

This is how this works.

Stories end.

Books reach their apex, then slide swiftly toward their final conclusion. They are a complete object. I mean, who’s going to respect you for not finishing it? Okay, you maybe get one or two of those — “Listen, I’m still finding my footing with this writing thing, I’m going to try something else, see if that clicks.” But I’m betting it forms part of a pattern. People ask, “Hey, did you finish that thing?” And you stand there, slack-jawed, a gassy hiss coming from the back of your throat that eventually resolves into the word “eeeehhhhhnnnnooooo not so much.” And then they nod and smile and say, “Sure, sure,” and then they turn around their roll their eyes and make jerk-off motions and whatever because people are ultimately assholes.

So, seriously.

Finish your shit.

Do it because I say so, if for no other reason.

Do it because if ever we meet and I ask you, you don’t want to tell me you didn’t finish it, because then you will feel my guilty, steely stare. My disgust will wash over you like a tide full of dead jellyfish. It will draw you out, an undertow of great forbidding, abrading you against a jagged reef of of sadness clams and guilt-brine. Then: angry barracuda.

Finish.

*kicks you*

FINISH.

*flicks you in the eyeball*

FIIIIINIIIIIISH.

*steals your coffee, eats your shoes, rage-poops in your chimney like drunk Santa*

Okay I’m going to stop because this is getting really weird. YOU MADE IT WEIRD. Not me.

Weirdo.

(But seriously: whatever you’re writing? Fucking finish it.)

* * *

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99 comments

  • Sometimes, I think you write these posts just for me. I wasn’t feeling prone-position face-pie, but it does seem rather transformative 🙂

  • Me: Thank you for the pearl of wisdom, Wendig- san (Me bowing in front of a kimono-clad you)
    You: You are welcome, Percy. Now go and write your heart out and finish your manuscript. And if you don’t, I will come in your dreams and yell at you to ‘WRITE!’ 😀

  • I treat these as pep talks and they are awesome. The ball pit of scorpions and shame sounds delightful. I should install it under my trap door of idiocy and watch my enemies fall

  • Thank you for the running metaphor. Those work for me. I’ve been running 5k’s with the flash fiction, but have this marathon that I’m going to do one day. I even bought 20-KWords of professional editing on the Ghostwoods Kickstarter, and yet the marathon is still one of these things I’m going to do one of these days. I’ve been warming up for years for a race I’m not running.

    I have found the poster for an “Invocation to Beginnings” (http://store.zefrank.com/?page=store&contentId=Invocation.Poster.Pre-Order1). I need a “Finish Your Shit” poster now. It will go just to its right, above my writing desk to taunt me when I make excuses. The guilty-steely-eyed-Chuck-Wendig-stare would be helpful, but not strictly necessary.

  • No more neuemanuskriptwerfenficken. This psychological plague will end. We will stand, with our finished manuscripts, and we will shot to the world, “Yas. I have finished my novel through sweat and blood and my shedding tears. I am novelist. Hear me ROAR.”

  • I have a request: A life-size cardboard cutout of you with a button. When the button is pushed it recites one of your many incredibly motivational tips, and of course, a blast or two of obscenities.

  • Good one! I’ve been doing 2k words or more per day since I bought your book bundle. Some days it takes less than 2 hours; other days, it’s spread over a 12 hour window. I’m in the muddled middle section, in the weeds, now. I’ve got a couple of tentative endings written. I see each character’s trajectory like a thread of homespun woolen yarn and I’m supposed to braid it all into some intricate macrame like an advanced girl scout project… it’s looking a bit knotted in the middle, a bit wonky and frayed… a bit flea-bitten and dog-gnarled.

    I’ve been reading about people who just write their book by the chapters. It kind of worries me. Maybe I will get there one day? For now, this is all I can do. I skip around the whole thing, adding scenes….. unfortunate scenarios. My book is non linear… it’s more like a ball or an egg …made of thread I guess? I don’t know.

    I finally told my whole plot and some details to an older man last week and he said it was like nothing he had ever heard, and told more in ‘layers’ than in the usual way (is there a usual way? I don’t know what I’m doing!)… my story is like a drape that falls in a strobe-light room, that is all. I still don’t know. But he did tell me that I had this excited look of delight on my face as I told it… so I guess it’s doing something to me or for me.

    I look forward to being done. To finally finish this. This book here is my novel writing 101. The last two years were pre-novel writing and growing pains I guess.

    • I ALSO get worried when people say they write in chapters. Who are these people with incredibly linear minds? I say we do our own thing and to hell with those well-paced chapter writers.

      • I assume that the chapter writers are more mentally organized and able to follow their perfectly detailed outlines to the letter. Perhaps they are more experienced and already have some messier projects under their belt? But you’re right, messy or not, we are doing this! We can and will finish!

  • Okay, agreed, finishing is important and wonderful and shiny. Here’s my problem – I’m not sure if this is a single book or a trilogy so I’m not sure whether to finish it big with ALL the ANSWERS or . . . just finish it small with certain things tied up neatly (like the lesser demons) and Lucifer still on the loose. Okay, and just typing that out made me think that, yeah, I can’t end the battle between good and evil so I should just go for the lesser demons. Thanks for listening. Back to writing.

  • Excellent and eerily well timed as always. Mere days ago I was telling a friend I see too rarely that lately I’ve been focusing on finishing what I start because I’ve left a desert of half-finished story corpses in my wake. And it sucks.
    Also, if you’re looking for more swag to sell, I’d totally buy a sticker with neuemanuskriptwerfenficken in a circle with a strike through it.

  • This is why I’m still massaging last year’s nano into sparkly novel shape, er editing/revising/god why god will this is ever end.. *refuses to admit there was any behind the shed adultery* Dang sequel you wanton thing you.

  • “Hey, Dan, you hear what happened at work today? A guy took a shit in the pasta extruder.”
    I had to spend a few minutes wiping the tea that burst from my mouth onto my monitor thanks to this line.
    Will you be finishing this story?

  • Truth. Finishing also makes your holiday conversations with family a lot more smooth, and this leads to the consumption of well-earned pie.

    Holiday conversation, last year and all the years before:
    WELL-MEANING FAMILY MEMBER: Did you finish your novel yet?
    ME: Well, I, err, I was really close, and then I noticed some plot problems that started in Chapter 4, and I went back and started rewriting it, so I’m back in the middle of it again but it still has all sorts of holes and now I have this other idea, so I don’t know if I’m gonna…
    (WELL-MEANING FAMILY MEMBER has already gone to get more pie.)

    Holiday conversation, this year:
    WELL-MEANING FAMILY MEMBER: Did you finish your novel yet?
    ME: Yes! And I just signed with an agent last month and we’re working on revisions.
    WELL-MEANING FAMILY MEMBER: Awesome! Can I get you another piece of pie?

  • I don’t give a pony’s patoot either.

    I give the whole pony. I’m generous that way.

    HEY! WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH THAT PONY?

  • You really need to stop sneaking into my house in the middle of the night to check my progress. You’re creeping me the hell out.

  • Dammit. I had ended this year’s Nano novel. I had too. But now you’ve made me think of another ending so it’s your fault I’m not finished yet. I’m looking at you, Wendig.

  • November 26, 2014 at 10:33 AM // Reply

    Finishing first drafts isn’t a problem. That part is fun. The revision period is when I’m always going off after new novels to write. I gradually am learning a reasonable balance, editing one and writing another…

  • I set aside a contemporary to start my NaNo, which will be the first of a fantasy series. But I went back to that contemporary, which was mostly finished, to pull it together. Does that make me a writing slut or just a bigamist?

  • This is absolutely the most important thing I learned by doing #NaNo last year. Previously I had started 2 novels and lost steam around 40K words. Forcing myself to finish made me work through the 40K slump. Thanks to that experience, I now know how to plan better and how to pace better too.

    That’s the beauty of NaNo, IMHO.

  • I laughed. I laughed because it’s true and I struggle with these very issues. I didn’t even bother to do NaNo this year because I’m in the midst of ghostwriting three books. Yes, three. I was thinking clearly when I said yes to all of them. Luckily, the authors are feeding me the ideas and what they want to say so it’s not so hard but sometimes the act of writing something that’s feeling so blah one day can be de-motivating. But since I read: “I see you not finishing your story. And I see me shoving you into the colorful ball pit at McDonald’s, except the ball pit isn’t filled with colorful balls, but rather, scorpions and shame.” I felt a shock of terror, (along with the stings from scorpions and shame, damn that hurts!) and now I must journey forth and finish these things because then I can start new, more interesting things…and that sounds very good to me. Plus I have happier peeps. 🙂

  • I like number 4. I said once that I would stay off this blog until I got my book done so I am cheating. But I did write better than 70k words since then. I had to come back because I already finished reading your books.

    I know this isn’t what you intended but I can’t help but wonder if being face down in an apple pie might help me end my book.

  • Recently an editor friend read my now three year-old novel, the one I’ve been shopping to agents who would sometimes request a partial or more often respond with silence. She told me I didn’t have a novel as much as I’d written a detailed outline of three novels. (I lacked detail and character development and oh, all the important world building stuff.)

    She gave me some suggestions and now I’m diving back in to start the whole process over. Only this time with three damn novels. Even better, I’d written a sequel that’s structured exactly the same way and has exactly the same problems.

    So now I’ve got the ingredients for a series and I’m diving in headfirst. There’d better be some pie along the way.

    Thanks for posting this. It’s especially meaningful at this point. Will you please get out of my head?

  • Great post Chuck, but I, ah… *finished* – around your third point.
    Seriously, that almost never happens to me.

    But I’ve heard it happens lots, so its like totally normal.

  • You’re like the abusive but much beloved father figure I never had. Or, well, had rather a lot of. But still-thank you for this post!!!

  • Dangit, had a comment, it got erased…

    I am addicted to editing. No, really. I have a problem.

    So I never finish anything. Even after a first draft, I edit and revise and revise and edit it into oblivion. Maybe it comes from a fear of commitment…being afraid to commit to an ending/to one version of the story. Or maybe it’s just busy work, a comfort zone that keeps me from starting or finishing drafts of other projects.

    That’s my problem with finishing the shit I start. I’d be curious to hear others’ reasons for why they have trouble finishing, other than your conclusion that we’re all lazy fatasses who would rather gobble our pies and then snore ourselves to death than do stuff and things.

    I’m just curious about why people don’t finish apart from “but it’s hard.” It’s often a matter not of making the choice not to try, but of trying and just sincerely having no clue what to do. I would bet that a lot of reasons why people don’t finish are fixable. It would be nice to see a post on this topic that’s a little less browbeating (I can’t believe I’m asking for that; I usually like your attitude), but that addresses common writing-stoppers like plotting problems and how to fix them — at least to a point where you can get the story to move forward again.

    It’s one thing to know what all has to happen next but being too unmotivated to write it, vs. coming up against a plot problem that makes it literally impossible for the story to move forward. You can’t keep writing if nothing could happen next or if nothing is happening or if even the writer doesn’t know how to defuse the time bomb or whatever. Motivating yourself is easy; fixing plot is something that I suspect a lot of people don’t have much of a clue about. As for NaNo, I enjoy it, but I don’t think writing 10,000 more padding words to a broken plot in the name of reaching wordcount is productive to really finishing the *story.* I believe that the craft of writing words and the craft of storytelling/storybuilding are different. I’d be interested to hear your perspective on that. Or see a post like “25 reasons why you might be stuck and what you can do about it.”

    And in the meantime, I might search your blog for something like “how to know when it’s done (no, for real this time).”

  • Revisiting this after reading your “isms” post. It’s difficult for me to work up the guts to point out these things because your comments tend to be overwhelmingly positive, so I feel like the awkward kid in the back of the classroom raising my hand like, “…Um…” and knowing that everyone will hate me because in two seconds I will say that I don’t like Twilight. Buuuut since reading that post I don’t feel quite so bad about saying this:

    “Finish.

    *kicks you*

    FINISH.

    *flicks you in the eyeball*

    FIIIIINIIIIIISH.

    *rubs sand in your mouth*

    finish finish finish finish finish

    Okay just now I’m realizing that ‘finish’ is also has a vaguely sexual connotation so I’m going to stop because this is getting really weird. YOU MADE IT WEIRD. Not me. I’m fine. I’m normal.”

    ………………Dude. What?

    That totally didn’t have to be weird, at least, not weirder than describing attacking the reader to motivate them, which is weird in the first place. BUT it totally did not have to be rape-joke-level of weird. More than anything I’m bothered by your refusal to acknowledge that YOU WENT THERE. YOU made it sexual. Not me. I’m actually fine and normal and not the kind of person who leaves ill-thought-out jokes about sexual violence as a weak attempt at humor in the final draft of my blogposts. Like. Why. Why go there? I think back on your screed on Game of Thrones not treating sexual violence in a “lazy” way because some of the audience will be survivors. And I remember your pretty courageous post a few days ago where you admit to having ingrained prejudices like racism and sexism.

    And then you end what’s supposed to be a motivational (or at least tough-love) post with a weird rape joke which you attempt to deflect and back out of, and place the blame for making it “weird” and sexual onto the reader?

    Dude. WHAT?

    Hell, if you want to make some kind of joke about sexual violence, fine, go there, that’s on you. But don’t tell me that I WENT THERE when YOU WROTE IT.

    I have followed your blog for years now. I really want to keep liking it. Whyyyyyy?

  • I feel like I should salute and say “Yes, Sir! Finishing will commence now!”
    And that german word your’re looking for is of course Buchbeendigungsangst which doesn’t sound half as awesome as yours. I’m more prone to Buchbeendigungsstarre myself, total rigor in fear of having to finish that damn book.

  • I’m starting to wonder if this fucker even HAS an end. I mean, I know the ending. It’s all nice and plotted out. But new characters start emerging from the shadows demanding their story be told as well. I *think* I’m in the second act. I’ve got 54K words down. But I have no idea how many more I have to go. So each day I just sit and write at least 1200 words and *pray* that the ending will soon appear on the horizon.

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