An idea captures your attention, and after mulling it over for a few weeks, you begin to pursue it. The story flows naturally until you pass 20,000 words and realize you’re not sure why your protagonist made a life-altering decision in chapter one. All of your excitement flickers out. Have you failed at plotting? Every scene now feels contrived!
Maybe you’re experiencing this panic because you have a habit of flitting between projects, unable to confine your footloose imagination to one world. Or worse, you’ve run out of inspiration for the first time and don’t know which direction to take.
Sometimes a premise is unusable. Sometimes a manuscript needs to be abandoned—if not forever, then temporarily. But in most cases, persevering to “the end” will equip you to do it over and over again. Through those cycles, you’ll become a stronger writer.
1. Finishing Builds Your Confidence
I spent more than ten years writing only the beginnings of stories. If I hit the midpoint before jettisoning myself, I considered that progress. I didn’t complete a novel until my writing professor turned it into an assignment for my capstone class. Talk about accountability!
When I printed out my manuscript to read through it, I noticed that I’d overreached in several areas (genre expectations and narrative capacity, to name a couple). Still, that didn’t diminish the pride that filled me. I may not have written a bestseller—in fact, that novel will probably never leave my computer’s archives—but I’d proved I could accomplish one of the most challenging (and fundamental) tasks of my dream career. Before that I wasn’t sure I had enough stamina and creativity.
If the material you produce isn’t publishable, though, why invest time in it? Because the practice is invaluable. And treating a first novel as an experiment in trial and error is common. Elantris, Brandon Sanderson’s debut, was the thirteenth manuscript he’d written. Succeeding in the fiction industry requires patience, and while you’re waiting for a breakthrough, continue honing your skills. As you demonstrate what you’re capable of, you’ll be less susceptible to insecurity.
2. Finishing Leads to Eye-Opening Revisions
You’ve probably heard the phrase “You can’t edit a blank page.” It may seem trite, but without words and sentences and paragraphs that attempt to express your ideas, you’ll lack a base for the masterpiece you hope to coax out. Although I enjoyed playing with dozens of plot bunnies, I didn’t grow during those years because I stayed at the same stage of the process.
Since writing is often a solitary effort, the next step is to request feedback from others. They’ll identify your weaknesses much quicker and more accurately than you could on your own. My writing professor alerted me to genre expectations, and when critique partners looked at my second novel years later, they flagged issues that indicated I didn’t fully understand story structure.
Every mistake offers you a chance to level up, but it won’t happen unless you have a draft ready to edit. As Brandon Sanderson tells his writing students, “Try a few things, practice some more, see if you get better. If you don’t, try something else.”
3. Finishing Trains You to Let Go
You don’t have to marry everything you put on paper. Most of your early work, just like mine, will be cringe-worthy. Although I’ve extracted a few golden nuggets from my first novel, overall it taught more lessons than it ticked boxes. I could choose to be embarrassed by that and chain myself to the past, or I could acknowledge that I wouldn’t be the writer I am today without exploring.
If your goal is perfection, you’ll sink into discouragement: I wasted four months on this? My prose sounds like a middle-schooler scribbled it. I can’t compare to my favorite authors, or even the other writers in my network. If your goal is learning, you’ll view your progress more constructively: I carried through! I evaluated the results, noted the parts that need improvement, and now I can apply those insights to future projects.
When you obsess over one story for too long, you risk stagnation. Not to mention burnout! And you might become overprotective of it during editing. The more stories you can tie off, the more likely you’ll find one that captivates readers, and the easier you’ll move on.
Rest in the Joys of Creativity
If you’re confused about which idea to chase, or you’re struggling with writer’s block, remember that you can always bring your troubles to God. Thank Him for the imagination He’s given you. Ask Him for guidance and a perspective that will allow you to see the blessings in each stage of the process. And never underestimate Scripture’s power to sustain you with wisdom, truth, and even epic story concepts.
Finish your manuscript, share it, and keep writing.
Rachel Gilson has been writing stories since she found a dusty old typewriter buried in her parent’s basement at the age of nine. What started as a love for writing whodunit shorts (that she never finished before starting new ones) developed into a love for writing fantasy and science fiction.
Currently she’s working on an epic fantasy novel exploring sibling dynamics, free will, and hordes of flying, burrowing, and galloping creatures ready to kill or be killed. With her stories she hopes to glorify her Creator, who definitely holds first place for being the most impressive world builder ever.
When she’s not writing with her golden retriever Nova nestled at her feet, you can find her tabletop gaming with her awesome husband, out in the garden picking berries, or reading fables to her daughter in the hammock. She loves traveling to explore medieval castles and talking all things writing craft.