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.
Dear friends, I’m typing this on my laptop while lying on my bed, dog at my side, with my right foot encased in a splint and a fuzzy black slipper. I sprained my ankle when I missed a step down from the lobby into the bar at a local restaurant. No, I wasn’t drinking, but it makes for a good story, doesn’t it? Feel free to use it as a prompt and let your imagination go crazy. One woman, all dressed up in Christmas finery, a bar, a guy, a step, a scream . . .
It’s all material. I’m documenting the whole thing because I think it might be good to have a character suffer this malady, especially the first part of it because suddenly you. can’t. walk. Now imagine a bad guy is after him or her or they’re hiking far from home or they’re about to walk on stage . . .
On the nonfiction side, one could write about sprains. How common are they? What are they? How long do they take to heal? What about crutches? It takes a lot of strength to operate them. My arms and ribs are killing me. How old is too old to hop around on crutches? The ER doc never asked if I was okay with them. What tricks can you do to take care of things when you’re alone on crutches, which means you can’t carry anything? Should I sue the restaurant?
Of course, one could write poetry about the frailty of the human body, the ridiculousness of the situation, dealing with pain and disfigurement, and the need to ask other people for help.
Feel free to use any and all of this. Most of my energy is going into simple things like eating and getting dressed, but I am working. Why not? The daytime talk shows are tempting me, but I didn’t break my fingers or my brain, so why not write?
You can read about my adventure in detail at my other blog, http://unleashedinoregon.com.
I signed on here to write something inspiring about starting a new writing year. But you’ve heard it all before. Take some time this holiday week to look at what you have accomplished in the last year and make plans for what you will do next year. Set some goals and make a plan for how you will achieve them. What will you do this week, this month, this year? This is also the time to add up your writing income and expenses for 2014 and set up your record-keeping system for 2015. I use spreadsheets. Use whatever works for you, but keep those records. You will need them in April.
What do you hope to accomplish in the new year? What would you like to see here at Writer Aid to help you do it? I’m here for you. I welcome you comments.
Have a wonderful New Year’s celebration. Stay safe and come out writing.
Now let’s go write.
Fourth of July is over now, but if you pay attention, the holiday offers lots of writing possibilities. For some reason, some of the most dramatic days of my life happened on the Fourth. All could be turned into fiction, nonfiction or poetry. I’ll bet you have some Fourth of July memories, too, or just some lessons learned from the fireworks that got out of hand, the potato salad that went bad, or the barbecue that was the most fun you ever had. Maybe just watching the people at the public events stirred up some story ideas. Now, when the holiday is fresh in your head, is the time to put your Fourth of July thoughts into words and get them ready to send out well ahead of the deadlines to be published next summer.
Here are a few ideas to consider:
• My worst/best Fourth of July
• Ten ways to make your Fourth of July better
• Ten things I will never do again on the Fourth of July
• Ten tips for having fun with your children on the Fourth of July
• Fourth of July celebrations gone wrong.
• How fireworks have changed over the years.
• As the fireworks flashed and crackled, she swore she would not ______________
• He stared into the campfire and _________________________
• He watched the child run across the sand into the water and _____________________
• The dog raced across the sand, nose down, tracking a smell. In a minute, he smelled it, too.
• The thing that scared him the most _______________________________
• Oh no, she thought. Not again.
• In the middle of the fireworks, I suddenly _______________________________
• The old woman paraded down the street between the trained dogs and the marching band wearing a red, white and blue tank top and a pink tutu . . .
Now go write!
Whether or not you believe in Christmas, you must believe in writing or you wouldn’t be reading this blog. So here’s my gift to you after oh, 15 minutes of deep thought. Fill in the blanks to write tweets, poems, stories, articles, opinion pieces, whatever feels right. You’re welcome share the results in the comments. Unless it’s really good. Then keep it to yourself and publish it.
1. When he reached into his Christmas stocking, he never expected to find____________
2. He said, “I promise you I won’t______________________”
3. It was the first time she __________________________
4. Under the snow, she found _________________________
5. My mother’s (or father’s) idea of a good Christmas was ________________________
6. I stared at my present in disbelief. It was _______________________________
7. If I were in charge of Christmas, I would ____________________________
8. Santa’s on a special diet this year, so I’m leaving him ________________________
9. Gun in hand, he stared at the blow-up snowman and said, “_____________________”
10. Mary said to Joseph the night the Baby was born, “__________________________”
11. Wearing his old suit that was too big for him now, Bud Johnson slipped into the back pew at church on Christmas Eve. It was ________________________
12. “What have you got now?” she screamed at the dog. She reached into the canine’s mouth and pulled out __________________________
Merry Christmas to one and all, and to all, NOW GO WRITE.
I’m sitting here waiting for a call from my insurance company’s claims adjustor, which I’m pretty sure will be followed by waiting for people to come out and dry out my water-logged den. Earlier this week my water heater sprang a leak in the night and gushed a ton of water into my laundry room and next door into the den. I spent yesterday moving books, photo albums and furniture, sopping up water with every towel in the cupboard, watching TV, playing Spider Solitaire, and crying. My husband is gone, I live alone in this house that is too big, and the shelves were full of un-filed photos of people who are gone . . . I felt so sorry for myself. I didn’t write anything except some whining in my journal and a sad status report on Facebook. I know, I’m supposed to be your expert, your good example. But sometimes life just jumps up and beats the stuffing out of your writing schedule. It happens. Forgive yourself. Take a day off. Then climb back on the writing horse.
So I’m waiting and writing. I suspect later today my house will be full of noise and people, and I’ll be happy to hide in my office and work. And you know what, this is giving me ideas for things to write about. For example: I could do articles on the life-cycle of water heaters and how to maintain them or on what to do with water leaks in the house. Can this carpet be saved? I could use this incident and these feelings for a character in a story or novel or even write a poem about how I have been forced to deal with all the stuff from my past that I’ve shoved onto shelves and into closets. I could write an essay on why people save books after they’ve read them and how e-books give you nothing to save. I could even add this as an incident in my memoirs.
Tomorrow is Saturday, and I usually don’t write on Saturdays. But I am writing this Saturday. I’m simply adjusting my schedule. The trick, my friends is to adapt when you have to, but never give up.
Now go write.
Once a week I offer three quick tips that you can take and use right away. For those of us who would rather be writing than reading blogs, this is a place you can grab something useful and get back to work. If you have suggestions, please share them in the comments section.
Want to know what it’s like to have a broken leg without actually breaking your leg? Ever wonder what a bullet does when it enters the body or what injuries your character is most likely to sustain in an auto accident? Check out Body Trauma by David W. Page, M.D. It gives you the nitty gritty about all kinds of injuries and wounds so you can get them right in your writing.
The Scriptorium is back. At this site, Sherry Ramsey offers articles, prompts, links, quizzes and more to educate and inspire writers. See it all at http://thescriptorium.net.
Finish this sentence. “I wish ____________________” then use it to start a poem, short story, essay, article or script.