Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Getting Finished with Getting Started

Sharon Wildwind

The first hurdle is starting. Not gathering research or making notes or developing characters, but writing Chapter 1.

The second hurdle is finishing the first draft, all the way to the end of the book.

Real life being in the way is the most common reasons that want-to-be writers never make the leap into being a beginning writer. Real life is hard. Horrendous events happen to individuals and to families. Those events require courage, professional intervention, and sometimes legal action to overcome.

I wish the solution was to tell the overwhelmed writer to take however much time she needed to get her life in order, then come back to writing. The sad truth is that many would-be writers never find their way back from real life.

When I was in university, I hit a spell when I wasn’t keeping up. Every week I had another good reason that I hadn’t finished my assignments. There had been a family crisis. I’d been sick. I had to work extra hours to make money for tuition. We’d had a fire in the dorm. Finally my professor said, “Life will always get in the way. You came here because you wanted a university education. If you really want that, get whatever help you need, and find a way around these obstacles. If you’re only kidding yourself about wanting it, stop now and figure out what you do want.”

As cruel as it sounds, some times the best thing for a person to do is admit that she isn’t a writer, never will be one, and go on to figuring out what she really wants. Her creative talents may lie in a completely different artistic endeavor and when she finds her niche, she’ll know it.

If we can get past real life; if writing really is what we want to do, here are eight other reasons that stop want-to-be writers. They’re listed in alphabetical order.

1. Feeling overwhelmed.
2. Knowing there are problems with the story, but not how to fix them.
3. Knowing there are problems with the writing, but not how to fix them.
4. Losing interest in the process of writing.
5. Losing interest in the story.
6. Losing track of the story.
7. Realizing more research is needed.
8. Wondering if I’m a real writer.

The solution to every one of these barriers is one word. WRITE! Don’t worry about good, worry about finished. The goal here is to get to two words—THE END—because the writing at this point is pure process. Learn what it feels like to start a book. Learn what it feels like to finish a book. The first draft of a first book is a seed. No one knows what wonderful thing will grow out of it. And in order to find out, you have to get the seed in the ground.

Nothing you write, if you hope to be any good, will ever come out as you first hoped.
~Lillian Hellman (1905-1984), American playwright and the inspiration for Nora Charles in the Thin Man stories


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

This is such an encouraging post, Sharon. I think most writers, starting out, feel exactly as you've mentioned. It really takes some dedication to overcome the obstacles and insecurity.

Mystery Writing is Murder

Lonnie Cruse said...

Wonderful advice, Sharon!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, guys. I must admit that this was not a completely objective post. I recently spent a morning with a person who prattled on about her unending list of complaints re the world conspiring against her to keep her from writing.

None were in the horrible, life-altering category. After a couple hours, I wanted to shake her by the shoulders and say, "SIT! STAY! WRITE!"

Being the well-bred southern woman that I am, I restrained myself, but it was a close thing.

Sandra Parshall said...

Sharon, I suffer from all eight of the afflictions you listed. It never gets easier. Never. I am always astonished when someone -- a reader, a reviewer -- likes something I've written. Writing a book is like making sausage: perhaps it's best not to let anyone see what goes into it.

Anonymous said...

I love the analogy of writing to sausage-making. It's given me a new catch phrase. I can say, "Back to the sausage machine," when I'm getting ready to write.