Write The One You’re With

So, a question I keep getting from all of you – beginners, middle-pros and everyone in between is: how do you finish a story?  How do you stay with it till you finish it?

The answer of course is “you just do.”

However, most of you start hissing and throwing rotten tomatoes when I say that.  So, instead, let me explain a little.

When I was a young writer, knee high to flash-fiction, I attended the Professional Writers’ Workshop taught on the Oregon coast by Kris Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith.

I learned all sorts of things at that workshop, including Dean telling me to stop (for the love of heaven) worrying about my word choices, because even if I made the occasional mistake, it wasn’t that bad.  (I think what he said was “your words are good enough.”)

You might underestimate the level of relief from this, but up till then it took me about a month to write a short story.  When I came back, I started doing a short story a weekend.  See, I’d been writing the basics in a day, anyway.  But I was polishing the language for a month afterwards because I was afraid when my stories hit the editorial offices they went “ESL.  Come and listen to the funny foreigner” then did dramatic readings…

The second thing Dean said though was, “All stories, no matter the length die at the halfway point.  If you push past that, they come to life again, and no one can tell where they stopped.”

Although I hate to disagree with the man, because he has a truly spectacularly bad habit of being right, he’s wrong about MY stories.  They usually die a third of the way in, then again at two thirds.  Which means books like the vampire musketeer which are really a story in three books are no end of fun.

There are various reasons the story dies, though and none of them are real.

You know exactly what I mean about dying.  You’re going along, can’t wait to get to the computer to write more, and suddenly the story goes flat and there are a million other stories in your mind, and at least one is WAY more attractive.  You have a feeling this is, no matter what you do, a very bad story.  You want to ditch the whole thing and go do the litter boxes.

This can go on for days, unless I take myself in hand and force myself to continue.  Again, it helps to know the way it feels isn’t “real.”

The story isn’t (necessarily) bad, and it’s not (necessarily) boring, and it’s as interesting as it was when you started (yes, siree.)  It’s just that you’ve made compromises to get it where it is.  You can’t put a whole world on paper, no matter how much you try, and if you managed it, it would be unreadable.  So you’ve chosen to show this, not that, the other thing, not the other one.  And by that middle of the book you’re feeling disillusioned.

Then there’s of course the fact that if you’re in the middle (or a third in) you know how hard it was to get there, and the though of going through the same.  As Shakespeare said, in prettier words, it is easier to go back than to go the rest of the way.

This is why many people rewrite the first half of their book to death (don’t do that) or abandon the book and start another, convinced that they don’t have what it takes to finish.

This isn’t true.  You have what it takes – or at least you do if you already wrote half.

Just keep that in mind.

Give yourself a break.  Go for a walk.  Get a coffee.  But, at the end of it, come back – preferably before the end of your writing time.  Sit down.  Write.

Yes, the first few pages after the “death” of the book will feel like pulling teeth.  Promise yourself some reward if you do x number of pages.  Then keep doing it.

For me, usually, the whole thing comes to life again within twenty pages, and fifty pages later I’m again fully engaged.  (At least when writing a novel.  I don’t notice the death so much when it’s a short because I write very fast.)

There’s nothing wrong with the started story.  And abandoning it for a new sexy thang would be like Henry the VIII trading wives and never getting any happier.

Write the one you’re with.  The other one can wait.


  1. Now you have me looking in the mirror and going “Oh! I’m a polyandwriter! Three or four books at once! For Shame!”

    Actually having three books going at once–writing, editing, and getting ready for publishing–allows one to legitimately /d/o/d/g/e/ take a refreshing break from the most /t/e/d/i/o/u/s/ from the one that needs a bit of thinking before writing the next bit.

      1. Yeah. What the heck is with the Create Space manuscript template? Blows my manuscript up to 5megs! I’m almost afraid to try the cover template. Mark Alger’s going to blog on it, very timely.

        1. Pam, are your using Word or something else? I ask because none of our books have come in close to that — btw, images will blow it up as well too many different fonts. As for the cover template, that’s a breeze once you get used to it.

  2. IIRC one of Heinlein’s rules is something like ‘Finish it! And send it out.’

    I’m trying! But I WAS halfway through something else when this one came along twelve years ago – and I’ve changed so much, and so much time has gone by that, when I finish this, I don’t know whether the other one will even recognize me.

    Henry VIII desperately wanted a MALE heir. He had a lot of bad luck with that. And I find it interesting that the FEMALE heir he was so driven to replace, Elizabeth I, was an amazing ruler.

    Off to write the one I’m with!

    1. From “Channel Markers” a lecture Heinlein gave at Annapolis in 1973.
      Five Rules for Success in Writing:
      First: You must write.
      Second: You must finish what you write.
      Third: You must refrain from rewriting except to editorial order.
      Fourth: You must place it on the market.
      Fifth: You must keep it on the market until sold.

  3. For what it’s worth– this article got me through a difficult patch. The solution was absurdly easy. You know, just cut out what you don’t like and keep writing. Fill the holes with more writing. Keep going until you are done. (There are good reasons why I didn’t like it. Even Husband agrees, and he trusts me to an absurd degree, and believes strongly in the “first instinct being best”– but he follows no rule off a cliff!)

    Remember what I said about making a career out of making things needlessly difficult? I have to remember that Occam’s razor isn’t just a scientific thing. It’s a great machete for when you are lost in the weeds. Thank you for responding to my little primal scream.

    1. Ooops… please sub in “simple” for “easy”. It’s not that actually doing the thing is easy, just knowing what needs doing is straight forward. I guess the editorial mistress in my head went home early today.

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