Tuesday, July 5, 2011

How to Finish What You Start: A Five-Step Plan for Writers

As I was reviewing some other author's blog posts last week, I came across an excellent post by Ali Luke of Aliventures. Ali is a writer and writing coach.

The post, "How to Finish What You Start: A Five-Step Plan for Writers" described me to a tee. I am that person who has a drawer full of unfinished manuscripts with more ideas coming each and every day, and the person who has had multiple blogs around the internet that have just sort of fizzled out. I have always been a starter and not much of a finisher when it comes to writing.

So imagine how offended I was (at first) when I read Ali's step #1 which states: Stop starting new projects!! My first reaction was one of immediate resistance, "But, I am a creative person. Having all these new ideas makes me feel alive!"

As I kept reading, I realized that Ali wasn't telling me to quit having ideas, just to stop trying to act on each and every one of them! Hello!! How easy is that! Just stop trying to enact them all! It almost made too much sense.

Her suggestion is to create an idea file where ideas can be jotted down to be revisited at a later time after you complete current writing projects.

I was simply amazed at how this first step hit home for me. I have always believed that if I had an idea, that I needed to jump on it and get started it with it immediately. As a result, I always ended up going Mach 10 with my hair on fire trying to juggle everything I wanted to get accomplished. This led to a quick burnout, and caused many of those great ideas to be left dangling incomplete for weeks, or months, or even years.

It never once occurred to me in all my years to just stop beginning new projects! Which leads to Ali's second step: Assess Your Current Projects.

In this step Ali encourages us to organize all of our current incomplete projects. For me this meant really taking some time to sit down and review each and every unfinished project and evaluate it for plausability. Is this project or idea something that is still relevant? Can I envision where I want the project to end up, and can I complete it? Maybe, the project is one that is no longer consistent with the direction that I want my writing to go.

Ali suggests to divide up your writing projects into three categories:
  • Active Projects - these have a definite purpose and still excite and inspire you
  • Dead Projects - these are no longer consistent with the direction you want to go and can be let go
  • Dormant Projects -these still hold promise and you want to complete them in the near future
It is very hard to let go of ideas that seemed so promising when they first came to me, but I am only one person, so I realized that I just had to let some of my writing projects go that weren't in accord with my current writing mission and purpose. Once I decided to do this, I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders.

For me the hardest part of this process is the third step: Choose One Project To Focus On. I have spent so much of my life having way too many irons in the fire, that it was hard to imagine focusing the majority of my time and energy on just one writing project. On the other hand though, this step makes so much sense, that I was embarrassed that it had never dawned on me before. After all, the easiest way to finish something is to just keep working at it consistently until you are done, allowing few distractions to get in the way.

So it was at this point in the process that I made an agreement with myself to dedicate myself to completing the paranormal romance manuscript that I have been intermittently working on over the last 6 months or so. With the exception of maintaining my two blogs, I am not going to write on anything else until my first manuscript is finished.

Finished. Just thinking about finally having an end product to show to the world makes me feel almost giddy inside! But, how exactly will I know when it is finished? That brings us to Ali's fourth step: Decide What Finished Will Look Like. 

At first glance this step may seem sort of silly, but think about it. If you're a perfectionist like me, finished is a lot harder to categorize. If I am going to put my name on something and send it out into the world, I want it to be the very best creation that I can make. The drawback to this line of thinking is that nothing is ever perfect, and by trying to get something perfect, I could drag the manuscript on and on indefinitely.

So I came up with two guidelines that will help me determine when my manuscript is "finished."

First, I will not edit any of the manuscript until the final chapter is complete.

Second, I will only allow myself two rewrites at maximum before I send it off to an agent or publisher.

Once I have completed those steps, then it is time to move on to the next writing project and only revisit the manuscript after a request by an editor for revisions.

Lastly, Ali suggests to Set Some Milestones (And Begin Hitting Them)! Setting small goals along the way is a great way to keep yourself motivated and to be able to track your progress. I think for my current manuscript, I will set goals of one chapter at a time.

I would just like to thank Ali for a great article. Reading it really has changed my perspective on my writing and hopefully by following her 5 steps, I will finish that first manuscript in no time!! Photobucket

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