Saturday January 20
Subscribe to RSS Feed

Finish What You Start

January 2, 2018 by Fiction Editor Beth Hill
last modified January 2, 2018

This is the time of year we’re filled with excitement over new projects, new possibilities. We make resolutions and plans, determined that this is the year we’ll write that novel, that we’ll submit a manuscript to the one agent we most want to represent us, that we’ll tackle the project that we’ve been putting off for months or years.

I’m going to add my agreement to yours, tag my encouragement onto your own as you go into 2018 with fervor for all activities writing related. Do them. Start those projects. Contact those agents. Dig deep into research for that new story.

But don’t give up on what you began last year.

Don’t give up on projects that you were once gung ho over. Don’t allow the turn of a calendar page mean that you have to put aside older projects. Just because you didn’t meet a goal last year or you didn’t finish a manuscript when you said you would doesn’t mean that you have to toss the project aside and start afresh.

I’m all for new years bringing new goals and new stories, but if you didn’t finish last year’s goals, you don’t need to toss aside the projects attached to those goals.

As a matter of fact, you might need to push deep and dedicate yourself to finishing half-completed projects.

We all like starting projects. They’re shiny and new and filled with possibilities. But stories that are incomplete, stories where we’ve hit snags or where we’ve run into roadblocks the size of mountains, are challenging. Sometimes they’re no longer fun. They’ve lost their luster and appeal. Those problem stories drive us away rather than invite us close. Sometimes we don’t even want to think about them anymore. The new story has endless possibilities while the possibilities of the old story have narrowed to almost nothing. At least that’s how we often feel. And yet . . .

Finishing the older project, pushing through the problems and challenges into solutions and answers is one way we grow as writers. If we always give up when the problems pile on, we’ll never learn how to solve those problems. Beginning a new project is not the solution to problems with an older project.

I definitely want to encourage you if you’re tackling a new project this month or this year; plan it, start it, go deep into it. But if you’re teetering between the completion of an older project and the shine of a new one, allow me to encourage you to take on that older project as this year’s new one. If you need a new mindset to approach your story or manuscript with a new attitude, find that mindset. Find the prompt or goad that you need in order to re-energize yourself to work on the problem manuscript.

Before you mention it, yes, some stories need to be tossed and forgotten or set aside until your skills and knowledge are advanced enough to tackle them and their accompanying problems. But that’s not all stories. And it’s certainly not all problem stories. Many times you need to push—and push and push and push some more—at and through the problem areas until you achieve a breakthrough.

I don’t want you wasting time on the unsolvable story problem; there are times when quitting and moving on is the right option. But it’s not the right option every time. And if you find yourself never pushing through writing issues, always putting aside the incomplete for the new, then you’re never going to learn methods for solving those problems.

Start something new this year and this month if that’s where you are in your career or hobby. And yet if you’ve got an incomplete writing project hanging over your head, let me encourage you to finish it. Make a declaration that you’ll find at least one solution for that obstacle that made working on the manuscript a drudgery rather than a delight. Or go all out and declare that you’ll find three solutions for that obstacle.

You may have to do a bit of study on writing rules, on fiction particulars, on story structure. You may have to be willing to change the POV or the story’s narrative tense. You may need to change the protagonist into the antagonist and the antagonist into the protagonist.

You may need to drop characters, add characters, change the setting, or change the ending.

You may have to get far-out-of-the-box creative and try something unimaginable. Something unique. Something unbelievably new. And wouldn’t that be fabulous?

My challenge for you as we enter a new year is to write. Write more than you did last year. Get your thoughts and ideas out of your head and down on the page. Try a new genre or a new style. Create a new character. Invent a new world.

But I also challenge you to finish what you’ve already begun. Do whatever you have to to keep working on the old even when the shiny and new is twinkling at you, enticing you away from what may no longer be so shiny. Remind yourself that learning how to solve a difficult story problem may be worth much more to your writing career than beginning yet another new story that you might not end up finishing.

Consider your problem solving and the finishing of a troublesome project to be career training if nothing else.

Finish what you’ve started.


Happy New Year to you all. May good stories chase you down and the mechanics of writing become more intuitive this year.

edit well #2 83797AA0F48D684CBAC54FBF163B9699


Tags:     Posted in: Writing Challenge, Writing Tips

19 Responses to “Finish What You Start”

  1. Hi Beth, thanks for your emails. I agree wholeheartedly that’s it’s best to finish old projects before starting on new ones. I have been writing and re-writing a book I started years ago. I am now in the final stages of editing. I found out in a webinar that the word count for women’s fiction should be between 80,000-90,000 words. Well, I wrote 134,000+ words. I have edited the book down to 97,760! Yes, I’ve been working hard. Like most writers, I have several projects that I’ve started but haven’t finished yet. But, old stories get my attention first. Happy New Year, Malanna

    • Malanna, congratulations on getting your word count down. I’m guessing that the story is so much tighter and crisper without the extra words. I wish you success in finishing that manuscript and your other projects that are already underway.

      Oh, and thanks for reading the e-mail and then coming to the site to comment. I appreciate the interaction.

  2. I cannot begin to tell you how much I needed to read this right now. I have a novel I’ve been working on for over a year and I’m at that stage right now where it’s driving me crazy and it’s tempting to throw in the towel. Yet I’ve spent so much time with these characters and invested so much time and emotion in it that I would feel I’d failed them if I gave up now. So, I push on. Your ideas about changing up POV or tenses or even adding or dropping characters gives me inspiration to move forward. Thank you so much!

    • Ann, I’m happy to hear that this was encouraging. Definitely don’t throw in the towel. Take off for a time if you need to, but then head back into the novel with renewed enthusiasm. I’m certain you’ll be able to not only finish, but finish with oomph. Here’s to finishing.

  3. Nina D says:

    Wonderfully motivational post. Happy New Year to you too.

  4. Are you a national treasure yet?

  5. Kate says:

    I absolutely have had to bring some 2017 goals and revise them to accomplish in 2018. They are important enough to me that I didn’t think twice about it. Love the reminder here that an unfinished goal doesn’t necessarily mean an impossible goal.

    Happy New Year!

  6. Phil H says:

    Hey! Great advice. I have several irons in the fire that need finishing, but no one has sent me to a website where a double or triple cross is laid out for me (no plot required, just who does what to whom). Oh well. And I sent a manuscript off to an editor who looks a lot like you months ago and never got a “shred it” or “how much money do have?” response. I hope it wasn’t that offensive or sophomoric.
    Yes, we need to finish the ones that are driving us mad, spending hours wondering if we are endlessly polishing a turd or a diamond. What I learned in music was spool it, print it, calla courier and move on.But that’s SO hard to do…

  7. Michelle says:

    Thank you for this inspiration! This came at a much needed time for me. 2018 is my year of finishing what I’ve started, and I’m excited to pull out my novel that I haven’t looked at in 2 years. I’ll keep this blog post bookmarked as my inspiration when I want to give up again! Thank you, and best wishes for your writing this year, Beth!

  8. Wow! Just read Ms Henderson’s comments and your reply. I am in kind of the same place, except my novel is 202,746 words. This is the 2nd time in 2 weeks that I’ve heard length should be 90,000 words. I love my book and my characters, am wanting to send out at the end of the month. Do I send it as is, wait and shorten it then send out. I’m so confused by word length, My idols have written 1,000 page novels and 400 page novels, always thought I was in between. Help

    • Robert, my reply to you is going to end up being a bit long, so I’m going to tackle it in article form. I’ll try to have something put together for you by tomorrow.

    • Robert, as I was putting together an article, I realized I’d already written one on the topic—Should I Worry About Word Count? A related article is How Long Should My Story Be? There are some good points in both; if you want to talk more about word counts after reading those, let me know.

      If you’re going to pursue traditional publication, you’re really putting yourself at a disadvantage with high word counts. It’s unlikely that agents and publishers will want to look at your manuscript with a word count that high. You’re competing with established writers as well as other beginners whose word counts are more common. Agents and publishers need only one reason to turn down your submission—an excessively high word count probably isn’t worth the gamble.

      And no, not everyone would turn down a manuscript just because of the length. But when other books in the genre top out at 90,000 or even 110,000 words, your manuscript is starting with a big strike against it.

      I still may develop the topic further. But do take a look at those other articles and let me know what you think.

      • I can’t thank you enough. This is my first novel. I thought that an agent would see 2-3 books in my work. But you’re right, I might think there is more than one, however why take the chance on what they might see and not see.
        I am putting on my wall a sign that will say, “Stop Indulging in My Own Words.” Not everything placed on paper has to remain there! I will wait a few weeks, leave my novel alone and in 3 weeks go to Staples for a hard copy and some highlighters. Thank you so much Bob

        • Robert, I’m glad the articles were helpful.

          If you think you have 2 or 3 books in that one manuscript, separate the text into the 2 or 3 separate stories. And then submit one of them to agents or publishers.

          Let us know how it goes once you get back to the story after your time away. I’d love to hear how the next steps work out for you.

Leave a Reply to Fiction Editor Beth Hill

Pings and Trackbacks