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.