I’m going to be straight up with you. This is a reality check.
What I’m about to tell you isn’t going to be well received by many aspiring writers. In fact, it’ll probably cause a little resentment, maybe even a bit of rage.
But that’s ok. Because you need to hear this. So, here it comes:
You’ve been selling yourself short.
You’ve been cheating yourself every single day.
And, you’re cheating the world by being selfish and lazy.
Yes, you’re welcome to read all that again. It’s true, and you know it.
More than half of all aspiring writers never earn a dime for their work. Even more never see their words in print, aside from the crinkled pages piled up on their own desk.
Simple. Because you never finish what you start.
Don’t get mad at me for pointing it out. I’m guilty too. We’re all guilty of this sin, and we’re all usually the sole cause of our own shortcomings in the writing world.
But I know the drill, and so do you. Life happens. Other things take precedent. You put that breakout novel on the backburner, or scrap it altogether. This scenario happens all the time.
You just have so many ideas.
You can’t pick just one. You begin, then you stop and start another idea because the first one wasn’t “feeling right.” After a while you have 20 beginning chapters, two half novels, one stalled in editing, a few hundred pages of notes and about 15 notebooks all with a few lines taken up in each.
It’s ok. Again, we’re all guilty.
We writers come up with so many creative excuses, a.k.a. — so many lame reasons why we don’t finish (or start) our projects, and the thing about it is; it’s all just bullshit we tell ourselves to make us feel better about not getting anything done.
But, there’s hope.
If writing is to be your life, here’s why finishing even the worst piece of writing — and publishing it — is the best thing you can do for yourself.
Life moves faster than you think
Just the other day I was planning to write a memoir regarding my direct experience on August 29th 2005 when Hurricane Katrina destroyed my home and washed away everything I owned — one of the most formative and pivotal times of my adult life.
But, guess what?
The “other day” was nearly 15 years ago.
In February of 2006 I began the book. Then, life happened. I began again in 2009 and made it to over 20,000 words. Life happened again.
Then, I began again in 2013.
See a pattern here?
Here it is, 2020, and the manuscript is still unfinished. Half of it on paper, half in a crashed computer and half in a dozen files on a laptop I no longer use.
This is what happens when you don’t follow through.
For me, writing that piece is not about gaining notoriety, or about having my voice heard. It’s not a dream of mine to make money from it. It’s simply a personal story that I feel needs to be shared with the world.
And, that’s what writing is all about. Nothing else.
When you put things off, time moves on. And it moves much faster than anyone realizes. Because what was once fresh in your mind, over time, becomes much more diffused. It’s almost like watching a fire die.
This is the result of letting ideas spoil over time.
It doesn’t matter what it is, novel, fiction, nonfiction, blurb or blog post —if you have an idea, write it down now.
Don’t let anything stop you. Even if it sucks, get through it and make it to the end. You can hate it or you can love it, but that doesn’t matter.
Just finish it and publish it — and then let the world decide.
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
― Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Unfinished stories are poison
This may be a bit of a harsh label to place on unfinished work, but it’s true. For a writer, our unfinished words and thoughts cause an internal agony that never leaves us.
The only way to stop the pain of bearing an untold story is to — yes you guessed it — tell the damn story. This means you have to write it, and finish it.
But, this isn’t always an easy path. It takes patience and persistence, two qualities that many would-be writers simply lack, or have yet to develop.
I, like many other writers and creatives, am a victim of my own mind. I suffer from creative overload. This happens when you’re completely in tune with the act of creation, and ideas for stories just pile up out of nowhere.
I’ll see a field of flowers, smell a particular scent or witness a random gesture and within seconds I’ll have formulated the foundation of a story.
Then, I’ll begin writing, only to scrap the idea a few pages in when it doesn’t seem to work.
Over the years I’ve used a technique to battle this problem, and the technique I use is known as flash fiction.
Writing a full-length story is a huge undertaking. But when you break it down into short story format, you’ll be surprised what you can accomplish — and the detail you can pack in to a few pages.
The great thing about flash fiction — you can always build off of the initial short story later if you want to. But at least you’ll have started and finished.
This creates a sense of accomplishment, and reduces the pressure of trying to flesh out a manuscript up to 80 thousand words. It’s also great practice for optimizing sentence structure.
And trust me, writing and finishing feels much better than letting a story simmer in your mind for months or years on end.
Try it, you can thank me later.
If you don’t write it, someone else will
Seriously. One of the easiest ways to piss off a writer is to plagiarize or steal his or her idea. But what’s even worse?
Seeing someone run with your idea before you’ve had a chance to refine it yourself.
This happens often, and it happened to me once.
Years ago, I thought I had a fairly original idea. But I never wrote it down or payed it the attention it deserved. One day when browsing through some late night television, I came across a movie titled Winter’s Tale.
The plot wasn’t at all identical to my idea, but it was pretty close — close enough for me to get a little let down about not writing it. Nevertheless, I recall slapping myself while watching it and thinking — man, that could’ve been my story.
Now there’s no way to tell if my story would’ve been as successful or not, and this isn’t the point at all.
The point is, if you don’t put in the work, someone else will beat you to it.
So, wouldn’t you rather it be you?
“The scariest moment is always just before you start.”
― Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
We writers are given a great gift. We tell the world our stories, and we reflect the culture in which we’ve found ourselves through our words.
When it’s done right, when we craft our stories with the world in mind — the world responds.
This is why you must finish what you start, because you owe the world your words.
They’re not meant to be trapped inside of you. And they’re not even your words at all. Because they belong to everyone.
So give us what you’ve got. Give us all of it.
Bleed on the page and let your tears warp the paper. When you give it your all and leave your heart open on the page for everyone to see, the world will know it.
Sure, it might suck.
But then, it might not.
So, why not find out?