The Art of Finishing
Finishing is its own special kind of gift
There are the “never-beginners,” who have ideas galore for artistic projects but never quite start them.
There are the “ever-middlers,” who get stuck (and perhaps swallowed) in the muddy middle of a project and are never seen again.
And then there are the “not-quite-finishers,” who somehow just run out of steam as they round the last corner to the finish line.
We’re in the final days of National Novel Writing Month, so if you’ve come this far, no matter what state your novel is in or how you feel about writing, I urge you to finish—simply because finishing is its own special kind of gift.
As a basketball fan, I often see a player make a magical move and break away to the hoop only to finish a little weak, a little indecisively, and then not make the basket. Some players “don’t know how to finish,” as the announcers often say.
Finishing can be the toughest part of an endeavor. Do you know how to finish? If not, then the best way to learn is to practice.
The recipe is … to finish strong, finish mightily, and finish with confidence (and maybe even panache). Just be a finisher. Because why not? Do you think the never-beginners, the ever-middlers, and the not-quite-finishers are having so much fun?
To help you finish, I’ve enclosed some tips from some writing masters below.
Because finishing is worth the pain
“I’ve found that accepting that the pain is part of my method actually reduces the pain —if I know, for example, that I always get stuck about 3/5 of the way through a story (which happens for me), well—the flavor of my reaction to that changes from ‘You idiot, you call yourself a professional, why are you stuck again, you moron?’ to ‘Ah, this is happening again. That means we’re 3/5ths of the way through and the story is trying to ascend to higher ground. Hooray!’”
“Accept the pure simple truth of writing: it is work. And like all work, it sucks. The level of difficulty doesn’t mean that work isn’t worth it. It just means you have to accept that there will be good days and bad, and learning how to power through the bad is just as important as reveling in the good.”
“Slow down on days the plot is throwing speed bumps your way. Lift dialogue directly from your life. Allow the play and experimenting and process to teach you as much as the finishing point. There will always be a reason why you cannot finish your project. Now list all the reasons you not only can, but you most definitely will.”
“The universe is always bigger, messier, and more complicated than we expect it to be. Sometimes getting to the end of a novel simply takes remembering that the world is more complicated than we know, and then sticking some of those complications into the story.”
“Just keep after it. Think of how proud of yourselves you’ll be once you have that novel-length manuscript in your hand! There is nothing like it, nothing like knowing you have finished something of that length.”
“On good days you’ll fly higher than a peregrine cruising for dinner, on bad days someone will have to scrape you off the floor with a spatula. This is what writing is like. You have to write on through the highs and lows, the careens and the meditations of your stories. And that’s what you’re here for now: to write.”
“All of us harbor secret hopes that a magnificent novel will tumble out of the sky and appear on our screens, but almost universally, writing is hard, slow, and totally unglamorous. So why finish what you’ve started? Because when you are done, you will have learned a lot about writing and humanness and the inestimable value of tilting at windmills.”
My NaNoWriMo novel writing series
Since mid-September, I’ve written about a different creativity topic related to National Novel Writing Month. If you’re not doing NaNoWriMo, don’t worry: all of the topics should relate to any creative project.
Here are the previous pieces in the series:
Because I’d love you to read one of my books
I write this newsletter for many reasons, but mainly just for the joy of being read and having conversations with readers. This newsletter is free, and I want it to always be free, so the best way to support my work is to buy my books or hire me to speak.
Because more about me
I am the executive director of National Novel Writing Month, the co-founder of 100 Word Story, and an Executive Producer of the upcoming TV show America’s Next Great Author. I am the author of a bunch of books and the co-host of the podcast Write-minded.
My essays on creative writing have appeared in The New York Times, Poets & Writers, Lit Hub, Writer’s Digest, and The Writer.