Writing Hazards – not getting finished.
Continuing my occasional series on the hazards that wait to trip up the unwary writer, I’d like to spare another glance at that perennial nightmare, not getting finished.
I’ve always found it very easy to start new projects. Ideas come to me all the time, and starting a new piece of writing is brilliant fun, lively and very exciting, unlike any other feeling. Finishing was always my biggest challenge, so nowadays, I also feel the most enormous sense of achievement when I finish something. Finishing a piece of work I started a year earlier means I have taken it seriously, valued my time, persisted and crossed the line called THE END. Hooray!
It is natural, when writing, to want to find the right words, to care about the plurals that don’t need possessive commas, and the possessives that do, and to search for elegant phrasing and a good style. In managing all these hopes and dreams there is nothing more valuable than a gram of practical common sense to ensure that we don’t get bogged down in details.
To start writing is obviously important, and to finish is equally important. But the questions will arise, am I finished yet? Have I done my best? To answer, well, I’m knackered, is not conclusive, as we might merely need a break for a week or two. We might need to put the writing in a drawer and leave it for six months. That might be part of our proving process.
But if we keep saying, ‘No, not yet, not quite, just a little bit more here and there and everywhere’ there is a chance that we are caught in the net of detail, of fine proofing everything too far, of caring so much about the details that we cannot stand back and see the project as a complete, vigorous whole.
We have to give it room to move, we need to allow it to stand up tall, and we must take the risk that yes, we might have done better – or hey! We might have written a whole different book! – but this is where we are, what we have, and finally, it has to be good enough or we will never have the courage to let go.
If it helps, we might call the stages to completion ‘finished in outline’, a ‘finished first draft’, or ‘I’ve finished the barebones’, but somewhere, the words FINISHED will feature.
Writing, as I may have mentioned before, is an approximate art, which, in hoping to write for fluency, drama and pace, will inevitably sacrifice some detail, a few accurate niceties and the more delicate handling of a more sedate piece. But this is a price worth paying for a complete work.