Finish Something Already!

Just this morning I was having a “conversation” on Facebook with an old high school friend. She has always been an avid reader, and a million years ago when we were kids, she was a writer, too.

I was always jealous of her ability to get inside her own imagination, to make up a story about something that was going on inside her head. I was always a much more literal person (you will not be surprised to learn that I later graduated from law school). But when I realized that practicing law was not the way I wanted to spend the rest of my life, when I started writing with just the tiniest seed of an idea, when I started encouraging my imagination to make up stories and when I started writing them down, I found out that I’m not as literal as I always supposed myself to be. I’ve got an imagination, and now I use it. All the time.

But whatever happened to my high school friend? She can’t stop reading long enough to finish writing the stories she starts, she told me.

That got me thinking about other writers I know (lots of them) who have never published anything because they’re too busy working on too many stories at once. These are people who make no secret of their desire to be published writers, but they just can’t seem to finish even one story before they start the next.

I want to shake these people by the lapels and shout, “FINISH SOMETHING ALREADY!”

I don’t do that, of course, but I’d like to.

It’s great to have a head full of stories just bursting to get out, but if a writer wants to be published, what good does it do if he is always looking to the next big idea without finishing his previous big idea?

Here’s my solution to that problem: keep a notebook and dedicate it to jotting down the ideas that fight to be heard while you’re working on something else.

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This accomplishes three things: first, it allows you to acknowledge those other ideas by writing them down. Second, it prevents you from forgetting those ideas before you have the time to return to them. And third, it allows you to get back to your work once the ideas have been memorialized.

When you’ve finished your work-in-progress, take a look at the notebook and decide which of the ideas you’d like to tackle next.

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I use a notebook system when I write. I practically lifted it directly from Phyllis Whitney’s Guide to Fiction Writing, which is never far from me. I keep a three-ring binder and divide it into sections: work calendar, theme and situation, story chronology (where I keep track of ages and dates to make sure everything gels), book chronology (where I keep track of each chapter’s length), possible titles, character names I like (and may use in future books), background, research, characters, plotting, outlining, bibliography, to-be-checked, and ideas for future stories.

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It’s a small section, that last one, but very important.

Sometimes when I’m writing, but more often when I’m not writing, I’ll think of something that might make a good story. Rather than following the road which the idea invites me to take, I write down the bare bones of the idea in my notebook and don’t refer to it until my current project is done.

Because finishing the current project is what we all need to do, right? We can’t hope to see our names in print unless we actually finish something. And I don’t mean sort-of finish something, I mean finish. It’s polished, it’s been revised and edited to death, and it’s ready to go out the door.

Only then is it time to get to work on something new, and that’s when the idea notebook comes in handy. You’ve written enough to remind yourself of the idea, and finally you have the time to encourage it, to grow it, to start writing something new.

I hope you’ll try the notebook approach if you find yourself overwhelmed with too many ideas, and I invite you to share your ideas below for staying on track with your current project.

Amy

Amy M. Reade 2

(You can find out more about Amy in her Guest Author article HERE – TSRA)

40 thoughts on “Finish Something Already!

  1. Great advice! I tend to jump around quite a bit from story to story. I don’t want to openly admit how many incomplete stories I have. This year, I’ve decided to tackle my incomplete manuscripts and finish them. I like your notebook idea and I think I’ll start one of my own. Thanks for this post.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I would recommend Phyllis Whitney’s book (above). It’s a quick read and I’ve highlighted mine and dog-eared the pages to within an inch of its life. The book is also filled with humility and encouragement–I love it. Thanks for commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. These are great suggestions for organizing and saving ideas. There are many apps for the computer, tablet, or phone that are great note-taking apps, that there’s no reason to not jot down an idea wherever you are or whatever you’re doing.. Often what you save on one type of technology can be synced to all the others, so you never have to worry about losing track of your thoughts and ideas. You can even take a screen shot, print it out and post it on your cork board, wall, or whatever you use.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I do have note-taking apps on my Kindle and my phone, but I find that I spend so long trying to figure out how to sync things that I’m better off just using a pen and paper! Sometimes, though, electronics are the best choice. For example, I took a tour of a restored historic home recently and couldn’t have a pen and paper with me, so I was able to take pages and pages of notes on my phone.

      For a person who can figure out the whole syncing thing and is more tech savvy than I, electronics are a great option. I hear that Evernote is also a terrific way to keep ideas organized, but I haven’t had time to try it out yet.

      Thanks for leaving your comments!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. As a writer I am also plagued with a steady stream of ideas that want equal air time. AND as a creative in general, I find that the idea deluge is prevalent in any creative mind. I run an online magazine that hosts 50+ writers and new ideas for building that out come up almost daily, so what I use is a whiteboard. Maybe it’s not so organized as a notebook and there are writing ideas mixed in with magazine ideas but there is a purpose – for me – in the chaos. I find that having that idea energy swirling around within my viewable space energizes whatever I am working on. The days of spending more time on Youtube videos than anything useful have become less and less since the whiteboard because the whiteboard is an endless source of motivation to get this thing done so I can do the next.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I think that’s a great idea. I know several writers who keep whiteboards near their desks because they can just look up and find inspiration right there. And the plotting section of my notebook works like your whiteboard–there’s always something I can add to the plotting, and when I’m stuck I go back through it and I invariably get more ideas that way. But they’re not ideas for new stories–they’re ideas to put right into my WIP. Good luck and thanks for sharing your comments.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This is so very true. I often have ideas come to me and I write or type them as soon as they do, then return to the project at hand, otherwise I’d get nothing finished! I have notebooks everywhere and always carry one with me, just in case. The lovely thing is coming back to these ideas when it’s time and seeing how fresh they feel. As writers, I think we need to have this discipline for, being a solitary profession, it’s the only way to move forward and complete projects.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I agree. Sometimes I’ll come back to an idea and it just doesn’t work for me anymore. I keep it written down, though, in case it works next time. And it is fun to go back and look through the ideas. It’s like being in a candy store, trying to decide which piece is best.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I think your notebook is a great idea for staying organized and keeping you moving forward. I do something similar, but less structured: I keep a flexible outline and a detailed character-personality list. (Alas, I am working on two “books” at the same time waiting for one to decide to take over – and a third that is just in my head and will have to stay there for now!)

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m toying with the idea of writing a series along with my standalone books, so I will have to start keeping two notebooks, thereby violating my rule of only working on one thing at a time. 🙂 But whatever works for you is exactly what you need to do. If you’ve found a system that works, I think that’s great! Thanks for stopping by and sharing your comment.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Amy, One of the things I love about your posts is that they are short and to the point… It has been a long time since I was in grade school, but I remember learning the basics of writing… Beginning – Middle – Ending… Of course, I am talking about writing an essay, not a book…. I couldn’t write a book if my life depended on it… but I do love to read… so each of the steps you outline are very important… A solid beginning with interesting characters and a good background… The middle to hold the readers interest.. and of course the Ending has to make the reader want more…. So, “keep Reading and Writing” and we will keep coming back…

    Sharon…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks very much, Sharon. The whole story-arc-thing is something I constantly have to work on. It helps to have a critique group that will tell me where things are slow and where things are too fast. I’m so glad you stopped by to read my post!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Depending on when you get that idea (in the middle of another work in progress or as you’re actively looking for new ideas for a story), you can either write it down and set it aside, or get going on it!! Good luck with your writing.

      Liked by 1 person

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