Wednesday, February 10, 2016

When commitment to your story fails you.

I like helping new writers make sense of this writing gig. It's my way of giving back to my community. Which is a big reason why I enjoy hanging around on Wattpad. (Yes, I have indeed warmed to it.)

A whole lot of writers there are in fact still learning. Which means many writers are asking for advice. (A good thing, because it gives me fodder to write about.)

One of those things that people keep asking about is about commitment.

Things like: "How do I stay committed to the stories I'm writing? I always start stories, but I never finish them."

Usually, my immediate response would be: "Say no to the shiny new ideas, then. Make a choice to stay committed and keep going."

BUT.

I think there's more going on to this question than "You're just not committed."

Why?

Well, I think back to when I was a writer learning the craft. I started seven drafts that I was excited about. I finished exactly none of them. At the time, I also thought it was commitment issues. Which was why, when draft number 8 came along, I started blogging about it as an accountability measure.

The thing is, in retrospect, I realized that The Vanished Knight happened as the result of a happy coincidence of commitment and just enough writing knowledge to get by.

Because in those other seven drafts, I'd be all excited and write, then suddenly something would just make me go meh and stop. And that something is my whole point.

That something was something that was wrong with the story. A Mary-Sue character. Lack of conflict. Lack of stakes. Lack of proper motivation. Lack of focus. (And on... and on... and on.)

There's always something that makes a serious difference between our expectation and reality. And when we realize that reality isn't stacking up, we stop.

That's what I did. (In fact, I still do it. I just changed my habits a slight bit.)

So how did I finish The Vanished Knight? (Actually that's a much longer story, but anyway.) I fell in love with the characters and concept and committed myself to finish it. Same as always. Except I added a blog to keep myself motivated. But that would NOT have helped me if not for the next thing I did.

I committed myself to figuring out what went wrong in the previous "failed" drafts so that I didn't make those same mistakes again. 

Yes. I recognized that there would be flaws in my story ahead of time and set about correcting them before they happened. And this time, I was lucky enough that I had learned enough to get all the way to the end. 

So if you're still struggling with finishing your first book, take heart. Use all your previous mistakes as lessons. Find what made them stop working, and then make sure you're not doing the same things in your current project. I promise you that you;ll at least get further than you did before. (Unless you go chasing after every bright idea that comes your way. In which case, read here.)

To the new kids: How many tries have you made? To the old hands at this writing thing: How many tries did it take you to finish one book? 

17 comments:

J.H. Moncrieff said...

I finished books from the start, but they still sucked. That's how I learned.

A common theme: everybody dies. Guess it was a sign of things to come. :)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Those unfinished drafts aren't a lack of commitment - they are the learning curve.

Madilyn Quinn said...

I've got tons of unfinished drafts, but the first one I ever finished (and I'm working on edits/beta right now) is something I finished during NaNoWriMo a few years ago. I'm not sure why that one became the first one I finished. I rewrote it twice. It's actually feeling, plot-wise, it needs expanding and more rewriting, but we'll see.

Pat Hatt said...

I scrapped the very first one I wrote and reworked it as it sucked, then after that just go and go, everything seems to fall into place now.

Terry W. Ervin II said...

While writing can be fun and interesting...usually is, it is also work. Without dedication and self-discipline, completing a novel just won't happen. A lot of young writers struggle to learn this, writing only when it feels fun or they have the time available, instead of making time.

Good post and good advice for writers early in their career.

Crystal Collier said...

I think I may be an anomaly in this vein because I always finished my stories. In fact, I had two novellas completed by the time I was 13, and several short stories. For motivation, I'd always pick a scene in the middle or end that I HAD to get to. I'd envision it, live in that moment, dwell while falling asleep... So of course it had to be written. Do I have unfinished stories? Absolutely, but it's not for lack of motivation. It's lack of time.

Christine Rains said...

This is one of the biggest problems I see with a lot of writers. I think there would be many more books out there if those people followed through and finished. But many never finish. Shiny new ideas are attractive, but you're right, we must say no. I've always been good about finishing stories, but it's the revising that I'm still learning about. I revise each manuscript more and more, and not because older stories needed less. All stories need polishing and I'm learning how to do so more efficiently every time.

Sheena-kay Graham said...

Experience is a hard teacher.

Patsy said...

I have books which I haven't finished - and you're right it's because there's something wrong with them. There were things wrong with the ones I've finished too, but I worked them out - maybe in time I'll sort out some of the half finished drafts I have lurking.

Elizabeth Seckman said...

I jump around, but save everything for a few years. I've found inspiration in things I started and abandoned. Or I'll realize it's crap and then toss it.

M Pax said...

I finished some books I never published. I think you read a few of them. lol I think it is all part of the learning process. Prior to that, I wrote stuff I didn't finish. And once in awhile I still start something and not finish. Why? Shrug.

M said...

I'm a very slow writer to begin with. And like many young starters, my first few stories didn't have much meat. I abandoned a few. In a lot of cases I either had a character but no plot or an idea/plot but it was all plot and not much character. (I'm talking original works; I cut my teeth writing fan fiction and did pretty well with it.) The 10,000 rule states it takes a person an average of 10,000 hours of practice to become proficient at something. So I think a lot of starting writers are logging their hours. They should be reading as much as, or more than, they write. Reading is key because that's honestly how you learn how to do all the stuff that doesn't come easily or naturally to you. And for every writer it's different. I'm a natural with character and dialogue, but plot and description took *ages* for me to learn. My first finished book was my graduate thesis, and I only finished it because I had to. (My undergraduate thesis was a two-part television spec, and I only wrote the first half!) So yeah, I'd been writing a long time before I ever finished a book.

Botanist said...

Wow, powerful insight Misha. For me, novel #1 never got finished - and, yes, there was something fundamentally wrong with it which I turned around in #2 and finished. I fell in and out of love with #3, but there I think the problem was working out in my own mind how to wrestle the plot into shape. In this case, what was wrong wasn't the writing itself, but how I went about the writing process. Either way, experience counts.

Denise Covey said...

Another thing to do is send that meh story to a beta reader and ask if it's worth it. Then they may find a place you can expand. This just happened to me on a short story and it's made all the difference! Great post!

Michelle Wallace said...

I'm a Story Starter Specialist. LOL
It's a daily commitment. Word by word. Sentence by sentence. Paragraph by paragraph. And then adding and subtracting.
A learning process that never ends.

Jamie Dorner said...

That's a great story. Figure out the flaw and don't remake a mistake. Brilliant!

One of my goals is to finish my nano novel and submit it to a few agents. See if I get any bites.

Launna said...

I want to write a book but I never committed to the time it would take so I question myself if I really want to write... because if I did, I would make the time... I like what you wrote here because this is true, when we find a flaw in what we are writing we stop and then start over... that isn't a commitment issue ... never starting over would be the issue... I am glad you kept trying xox