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.)
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.
Okay, as it turns out, the lawyers are saying I can’t promise you that. So it’s not true.
Okay, they’re saying I shouldn’t wink either.
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.
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.
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.
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.
*flicks you in the eyeball*
*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.
(But seriously: whatever you’re writing? Fucking finish it.)
* * *
500 Ways To Write Harder aims to deliver a volley of micro-burst idea bombs and advisory missiles straight to your frontal penmonkey cortex. Want to learn more about writing, storytelling, publishing, and living the creative life? This book contains a high-voltage dose of information about outlining, plot twists, writer’s block, antagonists, writing conferences, self-publishing, and more.
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