The Psychology of Finishing
Wow. Who would have thought there would be a psychology to finishing? Putting the words "the end" on the last line of the last page of a manuscript should be easy. Fun. Joyful. Giddy. No psychology or motivation required.
Typing "the end" is joyful…But the end of a manuscript starts long before those beloved words. There are actually several "ends" of a manuscript.
There is the end of the draft.
The end of revisions.
The end of polishing.
And these are the most dangerous times for your novel. Why? Because at each of these stages you are going to want to quit and the reasons you're going to want to quit will surprise you.
Now, before we go into the reasons, let me inject that the simplest way to fight the urge to quit is to remind yourself of your "why," (the reason you write) to motivate yourself into finishing.
But the problem is … You may not think to remind yourself of your why because you may not realize you're in trouble.
How the heck can you not realize you're in trouble? Very easily. The most troubled times for your manuscript don't look like trouble. They come disguised as ‘good ideas’.
For instance: Have you ever been close to the end of your draft and thought, "Hum. I don't think I'll finish the whole draft. I think I'll go back to "fix" the problems with the story and let the ending gel"?
Or have you ever thought something like "I just got this brilliant idea! I started off writing this as a marriage of convenience, but what if I make it a nanny story? A nanny story would be so much better!" And you go back to square one, changing your marriage of convenience into a nanny story. Basically, writing a new book.
Or what if you get three-quarters of the way through and say, "My hero's motivation is wrong. So I'm going to fix that before I go any further…"
Or what if you're one of those people who says, "I CAN'T go any further until everything is perfect."
These mindsets and "reasons to go back to the beginning" can create what I call endless loops. If you give in to those kinds of doubts you won't ever get your draft done. Every time you get close to finishing, you'll go back to the beginning and change/fix/repair/amend something. And you could go on like this forever.
Until you have a draft ending, your book is up in the air and it may never get done because you'll always be able to find something to change. As soon as you have a draft ending, even if it isn't perfect, you have set parameters. You know what you're working toward. Your book can't be anything but the book that matches your draft ending.
Something else that might surprise you is why some of us constantly have the "need" to go back and rewrite our books. It isn't because we're stupid or unfocused. It isn't even because we really do come up with better ideas as we're writing. It's because most writers' minds work too fast.
Stick with me here.
When you start a story, you typically have a beginning and ending in mind. You think "I want to write a story about a corrupt businessman who changes so much while investigating his sister's murder that he becomes a street preacher."
But as you're writing the draft or maybe in revisions or even while polishing, you suddenly begin to think the book would be much better if your main character weren't a corrupt businessman but a billionaire and you decide you need to change the book.
Or you think…You know what? I thought this was a good book when I got the idea, but right now it seems flat, dull, boring.
Or you think…It took me so long to write this book that the suspense market is glutted and I need to take out the suspense.
STOP! Really. Just stop before you hurt yourself.
Why? Because in case number one you saw your main character as another character type because your brain was working toward getting a NEW idea. That does not mean there is anything wrong with your existing idea. It means your brain is doing its job. It's thinking ahead to your next project! And the idea you were getting was for your NEXT book!
In case two, your book is dull, flat and boring…to YOU. Your quick brain has been working on it for weeks or months. Of course, it seems boring! Your brain is tired of this idea, this story. It wants to move on. But the story/book wouldn't necessarily be boring to a reader because he or she is seeing it for the first time!
In case three, your bored mind is wandering into territory that can't "count" at this stage of the game: The market. If you are near the end of a book, even if it's only the end of the first draft, the market doesn't count. It's irrelevant because you're too far gone. Do not change your book or, worse, stop writing. Keep your book exactly as it is. Finish it. Polish it. Even if the market is gone, put the book in a drawer. The market will come back. (And in this day and age of epublishing, nothing goes out of vogue. Everything is marketable.)
The three biggest pitfalls to completing a book are your next idea, your boredom with the project and worrying about selling the book.
You need to think of your book like your spouse -- or better yet, a fiancé. If you were engaged and you saw a person of the opposite sex who had characteristics you wished your fiancée had…would you change your fiancé? You might try, but would it work out? No! (At least I hope your spouse/fiancée isn't so wimpy he or she would let you change him or her.)
Can you imagine how your fiancé would feel if you told him that when you first hooked up he was interesting but having been around him awhile he is now boring? He'd probably tell you he hasn't changed. You have changed. He'd happily let you go because you weren't smart enough to know a good thing when you saw it and/or to work through the hard times!
Can you imagine what your fiancé would say if you told him that when you got engaged tall guys were in fashion, but now short guys are in, so you need to move on? He'd think you were insane. First, he'd think you didn't really love him and got "attached" to him for all the wrong reasons. Second, he'd think you were never going to be happy if you kept skipping around, following trends.
You have to commit for the long haul. You have to work through the boredom. You have to get good enough at crafting that you trust yourself to finish what you're working on even when something else seems more appealing. You have to understand that it isn't all fun. Lots of writing is fun, but some parts are slow, boring, hard work, and you must learn to work through them.
Because that's how you finish a book. You don't finish a book because you're fast, or talented, or have the best idea in the world. Lots of fast writers bore easily and walk away too soon. Lots of talented people can't execute. Lots of good ideas get fumbled.
Finishing a book is about finding an idea good enough to be worth challenging yourself to endure.
In fact, put that above your computer screen. My idea is good enough, strong enough for me to endure. I will endure. I will do this. I AM WORTH IT and so is my story.
That's how to get your book done in one year -- or less for some of you.
Which means we've come full circle; haven't we? Our first lesson was about committing, because that's what it takes to write a book in a year. You start off by committing. Then you acquire the crafting skills needed to write a draft, realizing that drafting is mostly about story. Once you've written a draft (gotten your story "down") you go to work on your "scenes." Revising, reordering, until your pacing is solid.
Then you turn your focus to words. You polish.
And then…you're done. You won't have a good story that's oddly paced or lots of great scenes too good for the so-so story, or even well constructed sentences that yearn for better scenes. You will have a strong, well-paced, edge-of-the-seat story that will delight copy editors because you took the time to polish!
I've enjoyed getting to "meet" you all and hope the motivation and information I've shared in this workshop really does make this the year you write that book!
We have the forum for another few days, so feel free to ask any questions, share your tricks of the trade, or tell us about your experiences with quitting too soon or pushing through the hard times!
Remember, you never know when that one piece of information you share might just be the piece of information somebody needs!