There are times, for all writers, when the idea of completion seems like an impossible dream. A book-length writing project is no small undertaking and completion takes determination, guts, persistence, passion, inspiration and simple hard work.
We can’t underestimate the importance of completion. If we don’t complete our writing projects, we can’t expect publishers to show interest in what we do. Especially in the world of fiction-writing (where it’s highly unusual for an incomplete book to be commissioned), an idea is just that – an idea. We need to prove to publishers – and to our ourselves – that we are finishers.
Of course, completion doesn’t just mean reaching the end of a first draft. That is a real achievement in itself – but it’s not the finish line. It is something to be celebrated. But it’s also a milestone, not the final destination. When we talk about completion, what we really mean is a revised, polished manuscript which has been through at least a couple of drafts and a proofread. Sometimes it means more than that. My most recent novel has reached what I thought was ‘final draft’ stage on three occasions! Only on the third ‘final draft’ – after I’d made extensive revisions based on the feedback of my agent and a novelist friend, did my agent and I agree that it really was publisher-ready.
As my own fourth novel goes out into the world – and as The Writing Coach’s new membership group The Completion Club launches on 1st June, it’s time for me to reflect on what it took to reach completion – and what I have learnt along the way – which is a lot! Indeed, I think I’ve had a steeper learning curve with this novel than any other and I’d like to think that I can use what I’ve learnt as I move into book number five and as I work with our members as they too work towards completion.
So here are a few points I’d like to share about completion – I do hope you find some of them useful as you work on your own writing projects.
- If you are at the beginning of a writing project – ask yourself whether this is something that you feel deeply passionate about and committed to. Are you writing this because the story fascinates you? Because you find the subject matter deeply intriguing? Because you are obsessed by a particular character? Because you have a structural idea that demands to be explored? Or are you writing this for reasons that aren’t entirely authentic? If you have doubts, stop and consider them thoroughly before continuing. It’s often best to shelve a project that you aren’t deeply engaged with, rather than forcing it through to completion. If you have doubts or lack passion, it’s going to take you a lot longer and it’s going to be difficult to keep returning to the work. When you are passionate, the blank page will draw you.
- Why not use the ‘Pomodoro Technique’ whereby you work with a 25-minute timer, just to get you going… You may argue that such ‘tricks’ are not conducive to serious writing, but for those who are procrastinating, they are simply triggers to get you into the work, to overcome creative block and to force you to create. If you’re not blocked and not having trouble committing to regular writing, you’re free to skip this advice. But if you’re not working at all, I’d say 25 minutes on your project is better than nothing at all… and often leads to a longer, more engaged writing stint. Regular work is the only thing that will, in the end, guarantee completion.