The Grand “Finish It!” Initiative

I’ve noticed a trend in my short stories. Many of my drafts have no endings!

Let’s back up a moment. I’m releasing a short story collection in June called Everyday Monsters (more details coming soon). As part of the collection process, I scoured my hard drive for on-theme stories. I found a bunch. Problem is, many are unfinished.

I doubt I’m the only writer with this issue. When a story’s not working, it’s tempting to abandon it and start fresh with another. Therefore, I’ve assigned myself a new task. I call it “The Grand ‘Finish It!’ Initiative.”

The initiative is simple: I won’t allow myself to move on from a draft unless I’ve completed it first. Here’s why I’m doing it (and why you might want to do it, too).

We Need a Structure

I tend to forget this. Midway through the writing process, I sometimes think, This story isn’t that good. Truth is, I’m probably not wrong about that — detail is almost always lacking in a first draft. But first drafts aren’t final drafts. First drafts are structure. We sometimes worry too much about setting, character, and specificity in early drafts when we should focus on the underlying structure. This leads to abandonment.

That’s not to say we should blindly accept everything we write. Some pieces are experiments. Others are educational experiences. We might finish a draft and decide it doesn’t work, and that’s okay. However, it must be a finished draft before we can fairly make that determination. After all, you wouldn’t look at a sketch of a painting and decide the painting’s unworthy of your time. You can’t decide until you see the final product!

We’ll Become More Selective About What We Write

This comes down to mindset. Imagine writing with this notion: If it’s not working, I’ll quit on it and move to the next project. What’s the point of being picky? You can explore any old idea just to see where it takes you.

Now imagine this mindset: I’m going to finish what I start. This approach speaks of discipline and careful selection. If we don’t allow ourselves to abandon half-finished projects, we’ll prioritize our best ideas. Doing so focuses our work and ensures we use our limited time in the best way.

Of course, there’s always room for experimentation. Furthermore, for some writers it’s impossible to tell which ideas have the greatest potential without writing them first. However, the point remains: Focus your efforts on your most powerful ideas. They’re the ones you’ll be happiest to complete.

We Need to Practice the Entire Form

I consider this in terms of sports. Let’s take basketball as an example. Between dribbling, rebounding, shooting, passing, defending, and more, there are numerous skills a basketball player needs. Depending on their position, a player might excel at one skill or another. However, in order to play at a high level, a basketball player needs competency at every skill. Shaq was a bad shooter, but he at least knew the proper technique.

Likewise, an author must practice every step of a story. Sure, some authors might excel at establishing a world or surprising readers with second act twists. But if we don’t finish our work, we’ll never develop our ending skills. That’s like a modern basketball player shooting with two hands.

For an example from the literary world, look no further than fantasy author Brandon Sanderson. He wrote somewhere around 10 complete novel manuscripts before he published his first. Those 10 were full practices. If he’d decided to move on to the next before finishing the last, he might never have developed a talent for writing entire books.

Conclusion

Kyle A. Massa is a speculative fiction author living somewhere in upstate New York with his wife and their two cats. His stories have appeared in numerous online magazines, including Allegory, Chantwood, and Dark Fire Fiction. His debut novel, Gerald Barkley Rocks, is available now on Amazon Kindle.

Originally published at kyleamassa.com on March 18, 2019.

A speculative fiction author living somewhere in upstate New York with his wife and their two cats.