Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Stay Creative Every Day Tip #9: Finish What You Start

Big news: I'm moving! I'll still be in Albuquerque, but I'm trading home ownership for apartment living with more time for writing and art, not to mention a swimming pool. It's a major change, for sure, and as much as I will be glad to leave yardwork behind, the one thing I know I'm going to miss is my little at-home studio. However, in its place I'm getting industrial space with lots of room to go wild with clay, paint, and all the glue I can spill. Watch out Etsy!

In preparation for packing, I've taken stock of my works-in-progress shelf and files and realized that besides my bulging "idea file" I have no less than 22 manuscripts in various states of completion. For some people this may seem an excessive (and frightening) amount, but to me it signifies productivity and never having to say I'm bored. It also means I'm going to be extremely busy for the next few years if I want to get these works into print and/or up for sale. So if my math skills are correct, here's the line-up:
  • 5 screenplays. 1 at 3rd/final draft stage; 2 have reached the full first draft stage; 1 is halfway finished; 1 is still incubating.
  • 9 novels. 1 is finished and ready for submission; 3 are full first drafts; the other 5 are pretty well outlined considering I'm a dedicated "pantster."
  • 4 books of poetry. All complete first drafts.
  • 2 short story collections. All complete first drafts.
  • 2 non-fiction manuscripts: 1 is a complete first draft, 1 is approximately 200 pages of notes. (Does that qualify as a draft?)
Which brings me to Stay Creative Tip Every Day #9: Finish What You Start. Do your best to not leave any piece of work unfinished. Unfinished work is usually about not knowing what to do next. To find the solution, try being playful: add a new character; paint red squiggly lines down the middle; paste on some text cut from a magazine. If you really dislike a piece and don't want to finish it, stop and consciously throw it away and don't think about it again.

In my how-to book, The Essential Guide for New Writers, one of the most important points I teach is that the only manuscripts that sell are finished manuscripts. Even if you're lucky enough to pitch and sell a 10-book series to an editor by sharing a few ideas scribbled on a dinner napkin, at some stage you will have to write and finish those books to get your full advance and avoid a law suit.

So how to stay motivated and on track even when you've added all the red squiggly lines you can? The top 4 ways I know for completing any work-in-progress are:
  1. Be organized. Keep well-labeled, clean, orderly, and attractive WIP files and binders for everything from character wardrobe sketches to marketing plans and multiple drafts. Personalized binders that are easily accessible and a pleasure to work with can help you to stay focused and able to switch between projects if necessary.
  2. Make a priority list. What is your most important project and why? For instance, do you have a contest you want to enter? Did you meet an editor or agent at a conference who asked for a partial? Is one of your manuscripts more timely than the others? Or maybe you just want to give books as Christmas gifts, or have them to sell at a book festival. Whatever the reason, it's helpful to have self-imposed deadlines and reasons for completing your work.
  3. Keep a log to know where you are with each piece. Give yourself the equivalent of a gold star for every day you achieve your daily or weekly writing goals and quotas.
  4. Know you endings in advance. A fun trick is to write your last page or scene first (which is precisely what I did for Overtaken. The last page was written in an intensive workshop taught by author Emily Hanlon, and I've never been more grateful.). I've mentioned this tip before, but it's one of the most helpful ways I know for getting a book sealed, signed, and delivered.
Tip of the Day. I heard a good piece of advice on NPR regarding creative goal-setting: instead of using the words "I hope," try replacing them with "I intend." For instance, instead of saying "I hope I can finish my novel by Thanksgiving," try, "I intend to finish my novel the day before Thanksgiving." Or, instead of "I hope my book finds a publisher," try, "I intend for my book to be published by June 2014." It's an important distinction, and one that I've found keeps me working toward my goals in a more professional and meaningful way.

1 comment:

Charlotte Fairchild said...

I still like an unfinished sentence to beckon me back the next day. A dangling sentence with half a thought.