One of my biggest problems as a writer is finishing what I’ve started. I always have lots of different ideas in my head at the same time, so I have a hard time committing to one project. Perhaps you’re like me and you have folders full of abandoned novels and short stories on your computer? Or maybe you started a few blogs, but gave up on updating them as often as you wanted to?
Sometimes, an idea comes to me and I rush to my laptop or to start working on it. Or maybe I’m out and I only have my notebook to jot in but the idea gets me excited and I can’t wait to start. But somehow, I get distracted or run out of steam. And then I abandon that project and start another one.
Perhaps someone else has that same problem? You’ve got plenty of great ideas, but unfortunately, your motivation disappears just as the inspiration fizzles out and you’re left with a bunch of outlines and first drafts that aren’t going anywhere. Here are some tips I’ve come across that have helped me with finishing my projects:
1) Don’t Start Random New Projects: It’s extremely tempting to start working on a new idea when it first pops into your mind. But you must resist the urge to begin anything new when you’re already swamped with unfinished work. You have to put a stop to that habit to break it. Otherwise, you’ll keep repeating the pattern and all new projects will lose its appeal and end up in the unfinished heap along with everything else.
Instead, find a notebook, or create a document on your computer, to store ideas. Whenever you have a new idea, put it in this “idea bank” while you’re working on something else. When you’re ready, you can always come back to the ideas in that bank.
2) Assess Your Current Projects: Go through all your current works-in-progress. Make a list of the ones you feel are most valuable; then separate them from the ones you may come back to later, and the ones that don’t have any merit. Be realistic with each project. Is there anything that’s just not worth completing? Are those characters so clichéd that they’re not worth holding on to? Is the plot of that novel so weak that it would not hold up an 80,000 word story? Rather than keeping old projects hanging around, clear the useless ones out, and free up some space in your head and your laptop for new and worthy ones.
3) Choose One Project to Focus On: Now look through your list of useful ideas, and pick one to work on. You have to make one project your priority. This doesn’t mean that you can’t work on anything else, but it does mean that your “priority project” (whether it’s a novel, a blog or a newsletter), is the one that’s going to take most of your time and energy. You might have different criteria for choosing which project is your priority. You could choose to start with: the shortest project (for example a 3,000 word short story, not a 100,000 word novel). Or you may want to pick up the project that you’ve already put the most time into, so that’s probably getting close to finished.Whichever project you choose, commit to seeing it to the end, before choosing another one to prioritise.
4) Set Some Targets: If you’re working on a blog, you can decide to set an hour every two days to work on your posts, and schedule them for publishing. Some small writing projects could be finished in a weekend, for example a short story. Most writing projects, though take more time to complete and you won’t be able to finish them in a day, or a week. You’ll need to set some targets to keep you on track. For example: completing a major section of a novel, writing a set number of words every day, finishing a first draft of a novel in six months, or scheduling a certain number of posts for your blog each week. Make sure you hold yourself accountable and reward yourself when you achieve your targets.
5) What do you do with your “finished” project? It’s worth thinking about the goal for your finished project. If you’re working on a short story, what do you plan to do with it when you finish it? Would you save it for an anthology? Submit it to a magazine? Or enter it into a competition? If you’re working on an ebook, would you publish and sell it on the Kindle store? Would you offer it for free on your website? What about the novel, what’s it going to do for your writing career when it’s finished? Picture the end result that you want to achieve and work towards it.
Remember, half-finished projects are not going to do anything for you. Nobody will buy an incomplete novel. You cannot submit an unfinished short story. Whether your writing ambitions involve hitting the New York Times bestseller list or living from the income from your books, you do have to finish writing what you start so that they can add value to your career.