Do you have a bunch of first chapters tucked away in a drawer – for seven different novels?
Is there a folder full of abandoned short stories on your computer?
Have you left a trail of abandoned blogs around the internet?
Did your ebook fizzle out after a few pages?
Most writers have been there … again, and again, and again. When I began writing, I spent plenty of time starting stories. The problem was, I pretty much never finished them.
Maybe it’s the same for you. You’ve got plenty of great ideas, and you just can’t resist throwing yourself into them. Unfortunately, your motivation seems to vanish … and you’re left with a bunch of notes, outlines and first drafts that aren’t going anywhere.
No-one’s going to buy a half-written novel. No-one’s going to read a blog post that stops short after two paragraphs. So whether your writing aspirations involve hitting the New York Times bestseller list or living from the passive income from your ebooks, you need to finish what you start.
Step #1: Stop Starting New Projects
Believe me, I know how tempting it is to grab that new idea and run with it. But now’s the time to stop. Resist the urge to begin anything new – however cool it sounds right now. After a few days or weeks, that shiny new project is going to lose its appeal and end up in the unfinished heap along with everything else.
Step #2: Assess Your Current Projects
Take a long, hard look at all your current works-in-progress. If your writing life looks anything like mine, you might well need to grab a sheet of paper and make a list – you may even want to hunt through your desk drawers or your computer’s folders.
Is there anything that’s just not worth completing? Maybe the novel you started ten years ago isn’t the one you want to write now. Maybe that blog post draft was never going to go anywhere.
Make three lists:
- Active projects that still excite you and have a purpose
- Dead projects that you’re ready to let go (even if you feel a little bit reluctant)
- Dormant projects that you might come back to in the future
Step #3: Choose One Project to Focus On
Now it’s time to pick one project. Just one. Because, when it comes to down to it, something has to be your priority.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t work on anything else. It just means that this particular project – whether it’s a blog or an ebook or a newsletter or a novel or a poetry collection – is the one that’s going to win out if you’re short on time and energy.
Step #4: Decide What “Finished” Will Look Like
How will you know when your project is done?
This might seem like a rather stupid question – but it’s worth thinking about. Many writing projects don’t have a totally clear end point.
For instance, finished might look like:
- You’ve written a start, middle and end
- You’ve proof-read it
- You’ve got feedback, revised it, and feel it is ready for sending out into the world
Without a clear definition of “finished”, you risk your project dragging on, and on, and on…
Step #5: Set Some Milestones (And Start Hitting Them)
Some small writing projects don’t need milestones: write a blog post, for instance, is something that you could realistically accomplish during one or two writing sessions.
Most projects, though – especially ones that have been hanging around unfinished for ages – are more complex. You won’t be able to finish them in a day, in a weekend, or even in a week. You’ll want to set some milestones to keep you on track.
Good milestones could be:
- Completing a major section of a novel
- Completing the first draft of a short story
- Getting the outline for your ebook finished off
- Writing a certain number of posts before your blog launch
I’d suggest having between two and ten milestones for your project (though you can break these down further if you want). It’s often useful to set a deadline for the nearest milestone, too, and hold yourself accountable.
Now, to start practicing what I preach I’m going to write myself a list, why don’t you do it too.