Anyone who knows my writing habits will know that this title is more than a little tongue in cheek. Not only do I not finish every story I start, but I am pretty much legendary among my writing friends for unfinished projects. If I bring the same piece of work to my writing group three weeks in a row, it is counted as a minor miracle. And yet, somehow, I do, on occasion, complete a project.
Studying those projects I have completed and comparing them to the (ten times more) unfinished ones, I have come up with what I believe is a fail-safe method to ensure I finish every story I start in future.
Plan Every Step
Do not start until you have every step planned. If you do not know the ending and every single step the story will take on the way, how can you possibly set out? Writing should not be an adventurous stroll in the park, but a meticulously planned journey along a well-planned route. If you do not know where you are going, how can you possibly expect to arrive there safely?
One Project at a Time
Only work on one project at a time. It goes without saying that you are more likely to finish a project if you keep going with one idea instead of flitting between half a dozen. Do not let another one in until you have finished the one you are working with now. Not only is this great discipline for avoiding distraction, but it also ensures that your attention is not scattered and your story ideas do not cross-pollinate and become unwieldy.
Do not worry how you feel about a project. Readers cannot tell whether you love or hate what you are writing. All they have to go on are the words on the page so it does not matter if you are having to fight to get the words out. Nobody is ever going to know. Resist the urge to move onto a story you love more, at least until you have completed, edited, and submitted the one you are working on now… no matter how much you hate it when you are bogged down in the soggy middle.
If you follow these steps, I can pretty much guarantee you will not end up with a hard drive full of half-finished stories, like mine. On the other hand, you might also miss out on some moments of inspiration and end up with some lackluster, forced efforts. Will I be following these steps myself to make sure I finish every story in future?
Well, the one novella I have planned in detail recently has certainly been easier to write than its predecessors, but that is not to say that I might not take off into the blue again on occasions. I believe it may be worth allowing a few false starts for the sake of more fun and inspiration, but I am also learning to give my ideas more of a chance before I write them off. After all, persistence is one of the most commonly cited traits of successful writers, and few editors will print half a book or publish half a short story!