Monday, June 17, 2013

Stuff I've Learned: Just Finish It

Here's the second most important thing I've learned about writing (next to making bite-size goals): finish the story.

I started writing when I was ten years old, and I wrote tons and tons of story beginnings. I'd create lovely folders for each of them, using my beloved Lisa Frank unicorn folders for my favorites. Every year, I'd put "write a novel" on my New Year's Resolution list, and I'd plan out daily, weekly, and monthly goals to meet that resolution... and then ten pages into whatever story, I'd be disillusioned with it and skip off after another shiny idea. This continued pretty much until I graduated from college.

After college, I moved to England with my then-boyfriend, now-husband. I'd planned to stay for a year and work at a bookstore or library or something involving words... but I kind of forgot to check about whether that was legal or not. So when I discovered that my student work permit would expire after six months, I decided that THIS was when I would write my first novel.

I told myself that it didn't matter if it was horrible or not, all I had to do in that year was finish it. And so I dove in and wrote every day, even before my work permit expired. The story was based off one of those abandoned beginnings from one of my Lisa Frank folders, and it had talking wolves and other worlds and girls with swords and everything I ever wanted to throw into a book.

And I did it. Before we left England, I had a full manuscript, complete with a beginning, middle, and end. When I came back to the US, I started submitting it to various publishers and agents. It piled up some lovely rejections, and then it took up residence in my closet. In the meantime, I'd run across a beautiful picture book illustrated by P.J. Lynch called "East O' the Sun, West O' the Moon," and I started work on what would eventually become my third published novel, Ice.

But here's the amazing thing that happened after I finished that first novel that lives in my closet: it got easier.

Finishing that novel taught me that I could do it. And once both my conscious and subconscious mind knew that, everything changed in a profound way that I hadn't anticipated. It removed this massive psychological wall that I hadn't even fully realized was there, and I became a writer.

So that's my hard-won advice for this Stuff I've Learned post: just finish it. Finish the story. Finish the novel. Finish the play. Finish the script. It doesn't matter if it's good or not or if it sits in a closet forever. The key is to finish it... and then you can write the next one and the next one and the one after that.

JUST FINISH IT. After that, anything's possible.

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At 1:14 PM, Blogger Bonnie @ A Backwards Story said...

Lisa Frank folders, yeeeeeeees. I was just talking about Lisa Frank yesterday at work, lol. I always love the sense of ACCOMPLISHMENT when something is finished, even if it's still not great yet. Because...I did that, you know?

At 2:04 PM, Anonymous Debby Garfinkle said...

So true! And as they say, you can't revise what you haven't written

At 7:23 PM, Blogger Sarah Beth Durst said...

Amy: Thanks!!

Bonnie: I always love the moment when you print out the pages of a draft and sit them on your desk in a nice, high pile.

Debby: Wise words! I really do the bulk of my writing in rewriting.

At 6:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, so true. Great post! I know exactly what you mean about the shift in thinking when you finally finish a novel... Even on really bad writing days, now, I at least know that I'm capable of pushing through to the end.


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