Must we finish every writing project we start?

Finish everything you start, Mridu Khullar Relph advises in “The Secret Art of Reaching ‘The End,'” published at Writing-World.com. It’s a good column full of helpful advice. Yes, we  tend to get a little squirrel-brained. We keep starting writing projects and not finishing them. We’ll never get anywhere unless we do actually finish something, she says. I totally agree.

Relph quotes the late Apple computer co-founder Steve Jobs as saying, “Real artists ship.” He means that at some point you have to stop tweaking, stop obsessing, stop revising, and send your product out into the world.

Relph adds that we need to look at how we’re spending our time and back off from tasks like social media that might be keeping us from finishing our work. We need to not just start projects but finish them.

All good points, BUT what if a product, be it a computer or a story, is defective, just not as good as it should be? What if no matter how hard you work on it, it just doesn’t have that special something, what one of my teachers called “juice.” Should you still finish it? I don’t think so. There are only 24 hours in a day, and you need to spend some of them eating, sleeping and relating to other people. If a writing project is not working, move on. But if it is working, finish it. Revise it, polish it, proofread it, find an appropriate market, and send it out. If it gets rejected, send it out again.

If you’re like me, you have plenty of ideas, but they don’t all get turned into completed poems, stories, articles, or books, often because you have a better idea that has more juice. Yes, you might have piles of incomplete writing and scraps of paper on which you scribbled what were brilliant ideas at the time. But I think that’s part of being a writer. Sometimes it takes numerous false starts or practice runs to get to the good stuff. You might write 20 poems and realize that only one of them is good enough to send out, but you got to that one by writing the other 19. You might have 20 ideas for novels, but nobody can write 20 novels at once, so you pick the best one and write it. If we had to publish every word we ever wrote, we’d be too stressed to write. Let the words flow. Figure out later whether it’s worth finishing.

Let’s talk a minute about Harper Lee and the just-released so-called sequel for To Kill a Mockingbird. (Why not? Everybody else is.) From what I can gather, Lee wrote Go Set a Watchman before her bestseller. She considered it an inferior book and did not want it published. To Kill a Mockingbird was the new and improved version. Check out this sad review of Watchman from NPR’s Maureen Corrigan. I feel bad for Harper Lee. I’m also tempted to burn all of my earlier drafts of unpublished novels for fear some fool will publish them when I’m too old or too dead to stop them. The thing is, we all have projects we start and don’t finish or never publish because they’re not good enough or we lost interest. We need to focus on the ones that have the juice. Finish those, get them out, sell them, get famous.

Meanwhile, if you need some spare ideas, I’ve got a few thousand I can share with you.

So, what are you writing today? Let’s go write.

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