I made a new friend at a book signing the other day, and I heard something I have heard a LOT from people who want to write a book or are writing one they can’t seem to finish.
I hear this all the time, so I thought I should address it.
We’ll call it “Can’t Finish-itis.”
It’s a terrible affliction, but there are cures.
Here’s an example from a blog post of an obviously dismayed author friend, followed by my reply
…it seems as if I’ve just wasted the last (fill in your number here of the weeks, months or years) of my life writing a story no one will ever be interested in EVER. It should be printed off only to be burned in a barrel and then bombed with a nuclear warhead. I have THREE chapters left to write. THREE. At the end of the summer, in September, I had FIVE.
This week I sat down to write and . . . nothing happened. I stared at a blinking cursor for six hours. Well, that’s not entirely true. I checked my email. I went to town on Twitter. I cleaned the house and did two loads of laundry. I watched a few cat videos on Facebook.
AND I deleted two thousand words from my latest draft…
This is what we call the being on the ledge.
It’s a later stage of Cant Finish-itis because when you get overwhelmed, getting to the words THE END becomes more and more elusive.
suddenly there is a need for constant rewrites
a compelling urge to add NEW stuff you’ve now decided is critical to your story
work gets busy/busier/insane
holidays arrive. (It’s not like we know when Christmas comes. Every year. ON the same date.)
summer = kids without school = no free time AT ALL
other stuff. You know what you get distracted by.
Occasionally I’ll see a writer out there on the ledge and I’ll talk them back in through a window. Just as often they let me know they’re out on the ledge and I talk them down. But on rare occasions they get out there and start deleting thousands of words and then it’s more a matter of getting them to hit the net when they jump.
Or if they slip.
You don’t strike me as a jumper so we’ll say slip. Yeah, that’s it. The ledge needed cleaning and next thing you know you were out there on it. It happens.
But the fact is, it is hard to finish that first book!
So “Can’t Finish-itis” can happen to any of us. You’re chugging along thinking positive thoughts about yourself and your writing, and then you reread a chapter of your GAM (Great American Novel) it and you’re like whaaat? Or a trusted CP (Critique Partner) starts asking if you wrote you latest submission while under the influence of prescription cough medicine.
Okay, so what do we know, and what do we do about it?
Cos if you think I’m gonna hold your hand, you might have shot me a Facebook message BEFORE you deleted thousands of words – and managed to write a thousand on your blog lamenting… your inability to write? Do I have that correct?
Well, I love irony as much as the next guy. Heck, maybe more. I even have sympathy for anybody buried under a foot of snow while I contemplate whether I’ll wear a sweatshirt with my shorts as I go buy chlorine for the pool. (I decided yes on the sweatshirt, but only because it was a little windy that morning.)
Okay, sister, time for the tough love.
If you think this is the hard part, you are wrong. This writing stuff? This is the easy part. Even when it’s hard, it’s easy. The hard part – the part we refer to as the abyss – that’s when you press the “publish” button and a few weeks go by and nothing really happens. Or you get three or four bad reviews in a row. Or your sales drop for some unknown reason. Or you have no sales and you suddenly realize it’s been quite a while since you did have some.
We talked about the emotional roller coaster that is authordom, HERE.
You’ll want to crawl under a rock and question your right to exist because nobody anywhere wants to read your story. Or review it. Or recommend it to friends. Or any one of a thousand other ways your shiny new manuscript will bring harm to your delicate little writer psyche.
But there’s good news! I can help you avoid the abyss!
And I could have helped you avoid the freaking ledge! Do you not know how to get ahold of me? Facebook, Twitter, the Contact Me button on the blog, Instagram, Pinterest… You can call. I’m in the book, for pete’s sake. There’s like two guys with my name in the whole United States and I’m not the radical priest in Texas.
Okay, okay, here’s the deal:
- You have probably written/are writing a pretty good book. You may still f*ck it up, but more than likely it’s completely readable and interesting. (Amazeballs in Jennyspeak.) How can I say this? You’re here on my site, which means you have a clue and you give a damn, and you know the difference. I don’t say that to everybody – check the array of carcasses in my critique group that got a “better luck next time” card from me. My readers have, almost without exception, been good writers. (I say almost because nobody bats .1000)
- If it was easy, everybody would write a book. 80% of US Americans want to and the vast majority don’t.
- Of those who attempt to write a book, MOST SUCK. Your book probably does not suck. (See #1)
- You have a LOT of people who want to help you in whatever way is needed. Don’t be afraid to ask for that help when you’re blocked. (And I don’t mean constipated, but I’m sure you know somebody to call about that, too. It’s not me. I wanna get on the record about that right now.)
- You are beautiful, funny, interesting, and a nice person. And your family loves you. Probably friends, too; I only know you online. But let’s give you that one, too.
- You have a LOT of people who want to help you in whatever way is needed. Sometimes that means goofing off with them for an hour on Facebook Messenger until they prod you to get creative and clear the logjam. After all, you managed to put down tens of thousands of words in a mostly cohesive string so far. Odds are a few more thousand are in you. Here’s proof, click HERE.
- This was not going to be a list but what the hell, it is now.
- As a list, it needed to stop at three or five, but once we sailed past those, ten seemed to be the magic number.
- Have a drink. (Like I need to tell you that.) Try writing drunk, like Hemingway said – write drunk, edit sober. It’s worth a shot (get it? Shot?) You may come up with something really interesting. You may not. But at least you’ll be drunk. And cut back on the cat videos. They obviously aren’t helping.
- You have a LOT of people who want to help you in whatever way is needed.
Whatever way is needed.
WHAT EVER way is needed.
You have a LOT of people who want to help you in whatever way is needed.
Okay, so I said three. Here are the three:
- Don’t stop writing the story, but don’t rewrite the story. Get it down and get it done and let CP’s have a look. Self analysis is self paralysis. (If you say you don’t have time, consider how much TV you watch and other distractions. Focus! We ALL have 24 hours in a day. The friend who writes makes that time, it’s not a miracle happening over at their house.) Let your CP’s help decide what works and what doesn’t. (You can find out about CPs HERE)
- Most people wanna write a book and never do. If yours is any good, and I bet it is, stop depriving the word of it. Just finishing the book puts you into an elite class, because everybody wants to write a book and most don’t. You’re almost there. Once done, you are forever a published author, and believe it or not, somebody somewhere may say you wrote their favorite story – but not until you finish the story. Stop depriving them of that. If that phrase sounded good, let it motivate you.
- You have more than one great story in you. Everything doesn’t have to be in the first book. Finish this one and get on to the second one. (BTW, If somebody discouraged you – even if it was you – it’s time to set that aside and finish. YOU decide this stuff. Do you wanna be an author or not? Finish the book. Then you are one. Doesn’t matter if it was a week ago or ten years ago, if you wanted to write, write. Finish. Be what you wanted to be, not the owner of a spoiled dream.)
Be what you wanted to be, not the owner of a spoiled dream.
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Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the amazingly great upcoming sci fi action thriller “The Navigators.” Click HERE to check out his other works.