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How To Finish What You Start in Five Easy Steps

I came across an excellent post by Ali Luke of Aliventures. Ali is a writer and writing coach.

The post, How to Finish What You Start: A Five-Step Plan for Writers” really hit home with me as a multi-passionate. I am that person who has a drawer full of manuscript ideas and half-finished manuscripts, including paranormal romance, romantic suspense, historical romance, contemporary romance, and romantic fantasy. Hey, at least they are all romance! I get more ideas every day, too many than I will ever be able to turn into complete finished manuscripts. In the past,

I was always the person with that super-fabulous idea for a novel, and although I started writing with great intensity and determination, soon I seemed to lose interest in the story, or come to a plot roadblock, and let those wonderful stories just fizzle out. I was a idea generator and starter of manuscripts, but not much of a finisher. My strength always seemed to be in the ideation and creation process. The process of creating new story ideas and creating magnificent characters made me feel so alive and excited!

So imagine how offended I was (at first) when I read Ali’s step #1 which states: Stop starting new projects!! My first reaction was one of immediate resistance, “But, I am a creative person. Having all these new ideas is where I shine!”

As I kept reading, I realized that Ali wasn’t telling me to quit having ideas, just to stop trying to act on each and every one of them! Hello!! How easy is that! Just stop trying to enact them all! Stop trying to instantly begin a manuscript with each and every idea.

It almost made too much sense. I realized that I don’t have to turn each and every idea I have into a novel. Her suggestion is to create an idea file where ideas can be jotted down to be revisited at a later time after you complete current projects. For me this is a great idea and something that I do already, but I just never grasped the concept of leaving the ideas there.

I was simply amazed at how this first step hit home for me. I have always believed that if I had an idea, that I needed to jump on it and get started it with it immediately. As a result, I always ended up going Mach 10 with my hair on fire trying to juggle all those story ideas at once. It wasn’t uncommon for me to be working on 3-5 manuscripts at any given time. This led to a quick burnout, and caused many of those great ideas to be left dangling incomplete for weeks, or months, or even years. Is it any wonder that most of those manuscripts remain unfinished?

It never once occurred to me in all my years to just stop beginning new projects! Which leads to Ali’s second step: Assess Your Current Projects.

In this step Ali encourages us to organize all of our current incomplete projects. For me this meant really taking some time to sit down and review each and every unfinished manuscript and evaluate it for plausibility. Is this idea something that is still relevant? Can I envision where I want the story  to end up, and how to get it there? Is the plot sound enough to support an entire novel? Is the story or idea consistent with the direction that I want my writing to go. Is it in the correct genre for instance

Ali suggests to divide up projects into three categories:

  • Active Projects – these have a definite purpose, are in accordance with your current goals,  and still excite and inspire you.
  • Dead Projects – these are no longer consistent with the direction you want to go and can be filed away or even let go completely.
  • Dormant Projects -these still hold promise and are ones that you wish to complete sometime in the future

It has always been very hard for me to let go of ideas that seemed so promising when they first came to me, but I am only one person, so I realized that I just had to let some of my ideas and manuscript projects go that weren’t in alignment with my current writing direction and goals. Once I decided to do this, I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders.

For me, the hardest part of Ali’s process is the third step: Choose One Active Project To Focus On. I have spent so much of my life having way too many irons in the fire, that it was hard to imagine focusing the majority of my time and energy on just one writing project. On the other hand though, this step makes so much sense, that I was embarrassed that it had never dawned on me before. After all, the easiest way to finish something is to set goals and keep working consistently until you are done, not allowing distractions to get in the way.

So it was at this point in the process that I made an agreement with myself to dedicate myself 100% to my current contemporary romance manuscript that I had been intermittently playing around with since 2014, and shelve the three romantic suspense manuscripts that I just couldn’t seem to find the motivation to finish.

You see, when I first made it known to the public that I wanted to become a full-time author, I got some very sound and well-intentioned advice from friends, authors, and other people in the “business.” They all advised me to focus on writing romantic suspense novels since I have a background in law enforcement and forensic investigation, and it would give me an instant credible platform.

Despite my misgivings (I was totally burnt out on law enforcement), I tried to take the advice of these authors and editors, and try my hand at writing romantic suspense. However, I just could not seem to find the motivation to complete a manuscript. I convinced myself that the plot wasn’t strong enough, and developed a new story idea from scratch. However, soon I had the same problem. Rinse and repeat. I just couldn’t seem to finish them.

Finally, I did some soul-searching and realized that I didn’t really want to write romantic suspense, at least not right now. Then, I had to search deep within and figure out what I did want to write. I love fantasy novels, and have always thought about how cool it would be to write one. I even had some good story ideas, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to start with something that complicated where I would have to create an entire new world. maybe one day.

So, I decided that what really motivated and interested me in all of these different genres was the romance and how it develops between characters. That is how I decided to focus on contemporary romance. The thought of finally having a concrete direction to go in really inspired me to take action.

That brings us to Ali’s fourth step: Decide What Finished Will Look Like. 

At first glance this step may seem sort of silly, but if you’re a perfectionist like me, it’s not always as easy as it sounds. If I am going to put my name on something and send it out into the world, I want it to be the very best creation that I can make. The drawback to this line of thinking is that nothing is ever perfect, and by trying to get something perfect, I have always tended to drag things out and continue working on them indefinitely. Would my manuscript ever be perfect enough to actually call it complete and send it out? Not without some guidelines to follow that would allow me to call a project done.

So,  I came up with two guidelines that I would use to help me determine when my manuscript was “finished.”

First, I decided that it was time to move from pantser to plotter. Developing a full plot outline in advance would allow me to set word targets and deadlines for each section of the manuscript. This would give me specific goals and time frames in which to complete each part of the novel.

Second, I also gave myself timeframes for completing edits and revisions and for completing the final draft.

Third, I decided to only allow myself a maximum of two extensions, if needed, each with a maximum of 30 days. At the end of that second deadline, should I use them both, it is time to move on and to send out the manuscript no matter what! Further revisions would only be done once I receive an offer to publish and revisions requested by an editor.

Talk about putting things in perspective!!!

Lastly, Ali suggests to Set Some Milestones (And Begin Hitting Them)! 

Setting small goals along the way is a great way to keep yourself motivated and to be able to track your progress. I began with a small goal of completing 500 words per day writing 5 days per week which put me on track to complete a first draft in 160 days or 32 weeks. Now this seems like a long time to complete a first draft, but it was at least somewhere to start. Since then, I have upped my daily word goal as I began to have more time to devote to my writing, but that small 500 words-per-day goal got me in the habit of writing every day and now I feel off if I don’t get my words in.

Today, I am the closest I have ever been to actually completing a manuscript and hope to have my first complete manuscript ready to send out very soon! So, I would like to thank Ali for a great article and for helping me to find the motivation and system that would help me become the writer I have always wanted to be. Reading it really changed my perspective and I hope that it will help my readers!!

So what active manuscript project are you going to start or keep working on, and how are you going to know when it is finished? I’d love to hear about your progress and if Ali’s method has helped you.

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