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Finish What You Start

I don’t know if it is good advice in general for life, but I will say it is good advice for writing. Finish what you start. The short story you can’t find an end to? Write AN end. The novel with a sagging middle that you can’t quite figure out how to bridge the gap from the amazing start to dramatic end? String some ropes and get it done. That outline you said you would do, to see if the story has legs? Get some post-it-notes and a table and outline.


I have talked other places about the idea of practice and expertise at 10,000 hours. It’s more complicated but for the sake of argument, lets agree on the number. We have said before that hitting the time mark doesn’t get you all the way. If I spend ten thousand hours working on the same chapter, perhaps a beginning chapter, over and over again, or writing the beginnings of a dozen novels, perhaps, I will get extremely good at beginnings. If I have never written an ending I will still struggle because the ability to transfer the skill of writing a beginning to an ending is finite.

If I have never written a book, from front to back, I will never be able to have the experience of tying an entire piece together. The same holds for middles, beginnings, or wherever you are weak. I have written into a novel in first draft “Argument here between X and Y about Z. Outcome ABC.” I know what kind of thing I need to happen but I didn’t have the place of mind to write it in that moment, so I wrote around it. But if every day I sit down to write, I skip it, never return to it, finish the work, let it go for a year and still never come back, I am doing only myself a disservice.

We must finish what we started, to become better at our craft. Any art form has pieces, structure, a flow of work from idea, to outline, to working, beginning, middle and end. Finish what you start to gain that experience of everything in between.

This is not the only reason to say you should finish your piece. Are you going to be happier telling a friend “I’m thinking of writing a book,” or “I am writing a book?” Will you feel greater satisfaction at “I am writing a book,” or “I wrote a book?”

This applies to editing. We haven’t had time to talk about editing in detail yet, but the editing process is just as important as the initial creation, and it is one I struggle with. It feels like extra, and I want to start writing the next thing. But the first piece is demonstrably unfinished. Editing is a skill, and one that is part of the full picture. I make notes to make myself go do it as action items. Because I know I need to finish what I started.

So do you. Be better at your craft tomorrow than you are today. Find your weak point, the thing you don’t want to finish, and get something down. You can always change it later. Finish what you start.

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