Monday, July 15, 2013

Exploring Mistakes Writers Make: Not Finishing What is Started

To borrow from my Catholic upbringing, “Bless me Father for I have sinned. It has been [you don’t need to know] since my last confession.” In the last “Exploring Mistakes Writers Make” we explored getting started versus being a wannabe writer. Today we are going to explore a mistake that is a hurdle that I run into personally: Not finishing what is started.

Yes, this mistake can be filed in the “duh” folder. You are never going to get published as an author if you never finish writing. Sometimes the issues that cause this can be classified in any of the following:
* Day job obligations;
* Family obligations;
* Procrastination;
* Non-Necessary Distractions:
* Polishing the cannonball.
Day Job Obligations
Many of us writers dream of being able to write for our living. Sadly, most of us have to get dressed, put on a choker (I mean tie—no I really mean choker), get in a vehicle (car, bus, subway, whatever) and go do a job that pays our bills and puts food on the table while we write with the hope that one day . . . one day . . . one day.

Let’s face some facts. When you are in this position, writing is a second full time job.  It is not a part time job—it really is a full time job. Your “day job” may work you long hours and drive you to exhaustion (been there, still there  . . . I know the feeling. Nothing beats working 6 am to 2 am most of the year) that you can barely keep your eyes open to write whatever that article, short story, poem, book or novel is. But, as a writer you are also an entrepreneur.  Yes, writing is a business. You can’t get away from that fact. It comes down to the question. If you hired you to complete your project—would you keep yourself else employed or fire yourself?

Family Obligations
Unless you are an orphan being waited on by a butler or you have never been married or you don’t date anyone (in which case you are either Batman or a corpse), you should not be a writer. You have to live before you can write.

If that description above does not fit you, welcome to the human race. We all have family obligations, which play merry havoc with our writing schedules. It’s the juggling act we all do and it leads to a lonely life at times. Maybe this fact alone is what solidifies bonds between writers that families can’t understand. Your spouse, significant other, sibling, child, or parent may feel like you abandon them when you write. You have gone off, closed a door (or went to the local coffee house) to keep the family obligation noise at bay so you can concentrate. You may have had to skip out on the family bar-b-que or come late to a family party with your aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. all looking at you like you have grown two heads.

 Sadly, they don’t understand nor will they ever—unless you have a rare gem in that mix or a fellow writer who understands. The writing life is a life of sacrifice.  Not finishing your work only invalidates your sacrifice. Make your sacrifice worth it by finishing your work.

This is a slippery slope to discuss because there is a line that can be hard to see between not finishing and procrastination. Here’s a good way to tell if you are unsure which side of the line you are on: is there something you would rather be doing than writing the ending or finishing your edits? If the answer is yes, guess what! That’s right, you’re procrastinating.

Why are you letting procrastination stop you? That’s like wanting to drive your car somewhere, but driving to every other destination than the one you want to get to. How do you fix that? Simple! Imagine a drill sergeant (or some such authority figure) standing over you and giving you proper motivation (called a boot in the butt). Just suck it up and get it done.

Non-Necessary Distractions
Ok . . . I know it is hard, but you can live without Facebook, Twitter, your cell phone, the latest Facebook game, World of Warcraft, SecondLife, Star Trek/Star Wars online game, the latest episode of Game of Thrones—Doctor Who—Walking Dead—Castle—Breaking Bad—or American Idol or whatever. I know . . . I know.  Here, have some tissues and know that your life will go on without them. 

All sarcasm aside, I can be guilty of this one as much as I am guilty of the first two. (Procrastination isn’t one of my issues, surprisingly). Of course, this is why I am writing anywhere but home and usually at least a season behind on any of the shows I will watch—and when I do watch them it is a marathon. (Thank you Netflix, Hulu and who ever invented DVDs.)

The fact is, if you are serious about your writing—then it is a job! You are the owner of your own company. Would you hire you to sit around and be distracted or would you hire you to write?  If your answer is to write, then you need to control the other non-necessary distractions (your day job and family distractions are one thing and usually necessary). They are within your control.

Polishing the cannonball
Polishing the cannonball is an old military term for taking too much time lining up the shot that you may as well be polishing the cannonball before you even fire it. Someone once said that no novel is ever finished, it is just abandoned. This is true of any novel, book, poem, essay, or article. You will never have perfection. It doesn’t exist. It just needs to be good enough (by this I mean well edited, make sense, have soul and life, and be worth reading).

With each thing you write, you (should be) improving your craft. Don’t let yourself polish the cannonball. Get your work out there. Sometimes you have to let the public (or an agent, editor, slush pile intern) reject it. I know it can be painful. But if you don’t do that, you will never know and you be chained as Prometheus to the rocks letting the Roc of doubt eat your writer’s liver every day.

Besides, have you ever read something that got published and fame and asked, “How did this ever get published? It’s trash!” Well, one thing they didn’t do that you may be doing is that they didn’t polish the cannonball. They got their work out there. So . . . can you!

No matter what your reason is for not finishing the work you are working on, there is only one piece of real advice I can give you (and myself). It comes from my martial art background:
* When you start your project, have a plan;
* Work that plan and adjust it as you need to in order to finish; and
*Make finishing your work part of the plan. (Set a deadline and meet it.)

Thank you for reading and please visit and You can also follow me on twitter @Owlkenpowriter and the Writer’s Lens @TheWritersLens. Fiction is the world where the philosopher is the most free in our society to explore the human condition as he chooses.

The “Exploring Mistakes Writers Make” blogs have been inspired by 70 Solutions to Common Writing Mistakes by Bob Mayer.


  1. Okay so who do we blame for making it so much easier to start something than to finish it? Somebody's got to take the rap.

    1. To borrow a bid of The Bard: "The fault lies not in our stars, but in ourselves." I don't like that response either.

  2. A writer must wear many hats that have little to do with writing. Add this sideline to your list, a tight-rope walker crossing the skyline on a windy day. It's a balancing act between getting your memoirs perfect versus getting them published before your public loses interest in your subject.

  3. A writer must wear many hats that have little to do with writing. Add this sideline to your list, a tight-rope walker crossing the skyline on a windy day. It's a balancing act between getting your memoirs perfect versus getting them published before the public loses interest in your subject.

    1. You are correct. It is like walking a tight rope while whistling and juggling fire and jumping rope all at the same time.