it’s a trip . . .

tips, quotes, insights, and lessons about writing and publishing learned the hard way

it’s not how you start, it’s that you finish…

I learned something invaluable last January: the very best thing a writer can do for herself is finish her manuscript.

Sounds academic, right? But none of the things that have happened to me thus far–the opportunities for exposure, the chance to request literary representation, the opportunity to attend a Pitch ‘n’ Shop in December would have come about without a finished manuscript.

finish what you start

finish something you've started

Some time in November of last year, I picked out a manuscript contest with a submission deadline of January 20, 2008, and made myself finish my manuscript by that date. And I did finish. I added 35,000 words in the next three months. And you’ve got to believe me–it wasn’t all good, and it sure wasn’t easy writing that many words. I’m not the fastest writer and I edit as I go. In spite of those handicaps, on January 20, with 25 minutes to spare until the midnight deadline, I shipped off a manuscript.

Was I a fool for sending it? Maybe. I see the flaws in it now, but I didn’t at the time. But I was absolutely right to push myself to finish. I’m grateful to those contest organizers. It was an artificial incentive that helped me reach my goal.

And I also announced my goal of hitting 75,000 words to my regular blog readers. Just like people who make their weight loss goals public, I wanted my friends to encourage me to reach my goal of a finished manuscript. And encourage they did. They formed themselves into a cheering squad. One of my blogging friends even embraced my mission to the extent that he changed the name of his blog to include “Home of the Gale Martin Cheering Squad.” I had to stop blogging to summon the focus to take that 75,000 manuscript and beef it up and put spit and polish it. And my old blogging friends (you know who you are) still supported me.

Did these things help? Absolutely. Am I a weak, undisciplined writer for relying on these artificial stimuli to help me finish my book? Maybe. But I’m human. Without them, I doubt that I would be where I am.

And where is that exactly? I’m in the game. Yes, I get rejection letters, but each rejection brings me closer to an acceptance. Yes, I’m still polishing my manuscript, but at least it’s finished. That means I can submit it to manuscript competitions, which I did, taking fifth place. Not only that, the judges’ comments helped me make it stronger.

I have two unfinished manuscripts, each with about 100 pages–a young adult novel and a woman-in-peril suspense story. I have two first chapters of two more novels. I have ideas for two more.

But the best thing I can do for myself is embrace one of those hundred-pagers and finish it.

To sum it up, set a word count for yourself. Add a deadline with some teeth to it (because you are trying to enter contest or a challenge among friends.) And tell as many friends as you can what you are doing and enlist their support.

I’m kind of stuck on a manuscript right now, feeling like it’s sheer dreck. But I’m going to embrace its dreckiness and finish the damn thing because most first manuscripts are dreck.

Because it’s not how you start, it’s that you finish.

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2 Comments»

  Ian wrote @

It’s easy to fall into the Sexy New Novel pattern – which is the writer’s analog to the two-week love affair. You get hit with the idea for your next Sexy New Novel and it becomes all-consuming. You write like your fingers might drop off at any moment. Then the initial thrill wanes and you start to wander, skipping a day here, then two days. Then before you know it, you get another Sexy New Novel idea and the pattern starts anew.

Writers who cannot commit, cannot break out of that initial orgasm of creation, have dozens-or even hundreds-of unfinished projects. Writers like that will never get published because until you can commit yourself for the duration of the entire book, from the initial glut of creation through the doldrums of development and the fights of editing, all while keeping from rubbernecking at all the hot, Sexy New Novels floating past you, you will never get published.

“Dreck” is a kind word for most first drafts. 🙂

  rachel wrote @

deadlines, workshops, friends threatening to read your stuff – it’s all great incentive, so use it. You can write for your own eyes only forever, but what’s the point of that? We all want to go public and be adored. Soon as I know that Gale (ie) will be reading this or that chapter, I see it with fresh eyes and the flaws in my work start flashing. So I agree that at least for a procrastinator like me, finish lines, self-imposed, or workshop due dates, are critical, not just to get on with it but to do my very best.

Am just sending out a query and sample – tomorrow a.m. is my deadline – and revising revising revising until the very last minute. Unbelievable how you never get it quite right.

Re finishing novels – I have managed to finish a couple that really lost their shine halfway through, then gone back and fixed them, and now I think they were well worth the struggle.

I gave up on one story a couple years ago and now looking back think it’s my best, and am looking forward to carrying on with it. Trouble is, it’s very complicated and I lost the plot notes somewhere.

Will stop babbling now.

Nice to hear others’ thoughts on the matter.
Thanks Gale
🙂


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  • my author bio . . .

    I began writing creatively three years ago, fueled by midlife and a Curves' addiction. Since then, I have published short work in The Christian Science Monitor and Sirens Magazine in the same year. How's that for versatility!
    Sirens Magazine

    Sirens Magazine

    Also the Duck & Herring Company's Pocket Field Guide, The Giggle Water Review, Alighted, Wet Ink Press, America's Funniest Humor, Brilliant!, Laughter Loaf, Flash-Flooding, and the Greensilk Journal where my short story, "How I Boinked John Cusack" won editor's pick.
    The Greensilk Journal

    The Greensilk Journal

    My newest novel, THE SHAKER PROPOSAL, has received numerous accolades, the latest a fifth-place in the 2008 annual NWA (National Writing Association) Novel Contest.
    THE SHAKER PROPOSAL

    THE SHAKER PROPOSAL

    I am a marketing professional by vocation (but not by choice). My husband and I live in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania—the sounds, sites, smells, and flavors of which are a never-ending source of literary inspiration.
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