Growing into my writing self (which you, me, and all of our favorite writers are still doing, by the way) I always had tremendous trouble finishing a story. I can do this now because I've grown and I've figured out what works for me. I hear this a lot from aspiring writers and I hear from accomplished authors that they often receive similar questions as I do;
How do you finish a story?
Let me guess. You get a great, shining and fabulous idea for a story. You have a gutsy protagonist that will fight the bad guys, whether it be her demons or actual demons. Everything seems to be setting into place. You set your pen on the paper and write your heart out. But this lasts maybe a couple of days and at most thirty pages before you're pen metaphorically dries up. Your bad ass protag isn't nearly as developed as you thought she would be. You've run out of inspiration.
So what? You put the story down and you move on to the next shiny story idea and grab the next gutsy protagonist you can find. Rinse and repeat, you get the picture. I was caught in this cycle for a while too. This is how I got out of it.
Tips for finishing your novel:
1. Create an outline.
This is the simplistic one and it's the one that I recommend most strongly. Creating an outline is so. incredibly. important. Some people think it's not vital to the writing process. To this I say; it's not. It's only important if you want to finish. A lot of people think that it takes the fun out of writing; it makes the story less creative as you create it. I guess I can see where this idea would come from but I can personally testify that this is simply not true. In fact, for me at least, creating an outline increases my amount of creativity. Everybody has their own outlining process but if you aren't sure where to start with yours, read below to see how I create mine:
A. First I allow myself to indulge in those thirty pages of inspiration in the beginning. When I find a shiny idea and I feel that need to start writing a story I don't stop to write an outline. That takes the fun out of it. I try to write as much as I can from pure inspiration before I put myself to work with an outline. I love those first days of writing a story. I love writing the first words. Because it's just then when the real magic comes out.
B. When I reach the point of exasperation I sit down with a blank piece of paper and my favorite pen. I mean, the kind of pen that leaks through the sheet makes me feel like I can spread the ink all over the paper. That's my favorite kind. So I sit down and I close my eyes and I just think about how I want this story to end. And how exactly do you figure out how you want a story to end? Ask these questions. Who is your protagonist right now? If you aren't sure try writing out 20 randoms facts about her. Then ask yourself again; who is your protagonist right now? What is her weakness right now? Will she overcome this weakness in the end or will she succumb to it? Finally, when you have these answers, write down what the end of your story will look like. Sometimes it will be ugly and sometimes it will be beautiful. Keep in mind, though, that no matter what it looks like now there's a good chance it will change by the time you've written the story.
C. Grab another piece of paper and write the progression of events you've already got. Then, before you lose your mojo, write what you want to happen next. Quick, keep writing down events. Don't put detail into them. In my outline I write things like "Sadie finds out dad killed family" "Sadie and Ash go down to hill; share moment" "Sadie, Ash, Ian, and Hugo head out to city. Go to get supplies. Break into store. Ash fucks up." Things like that. You don't really get a feel for the whole scene but you get a feel for where the story is going. You know what I mean? That's why outlining doesn't suck the creativity out of writing-- while you're actually doing the writing job you still have a whole lot to account for. You can still do anything.
D. This last one I only do about half of the time. I grab a journal and leave two or three pages for notes that I'll take during the story for what I should edit later (because you should never edit while writing your first draft, but I'll get to that later.) Then, I lay out information that wasn't clear in the outline. Like I said, I don't do this all the time because it isn't really important all the time. An example, you ask? In Upon a Darker Shore each of my characters have specific traits that sort this into the group that makes them so dangerous. Traits like empathy and bravery. Simple things, you know? And there were a certain group of characters to start but each one brought a few more people to the scene. So in my notebook I drew all of their names in individual circles, writing their traits in the same circles. Then, I drew arrows depicting who brought who to the scene. it helped organize my story a lot.
E. Get started writing your story:) and remember that if you write something that goes against the outline, change the outline. You always want to write what feels right rather than write to the guidelines you've given yourself.
*** If you want to use an electronic outline that isn't word I recommend using scrivener. There's a thirty day free trial and it's a really amazing tool for writers -- inexpensive as well. (See featured picture below)
2. Avoid plot bunnies. I love this term. It's perfect. Formal definition? A plot bunny is that shiny new idea you see while you're writing your story. At this point you're probably about half way through and your story doesn't even seem like a good idea anymore. It's boring and your fed up with it. Then, out of no where, comes along a bright new one that you want to pursue. I mean, it's got to be better than this one, right? Wrong. Don't touch the plot bunny. It will not only ruin your story now but it will eventually kill the story you want to pick up. The healthy alternative? Keep a notebook with you. Every time you see a plot bunny write it down in your notebook. Then you'll have a great new idea to look at after you've finished your novel.
3. Don't edit while you're writing your first draft. I don't know about you but this one is so difficult for me. I just want to go back and perfect what I've written. Class, what's the problem with that? That's right-- I'm a perfectionist. I'll never think that chapter one is perfect, therefor chapter two will never get written. You have to force yourself not to look back at what you've written until after you've finished the first draft. If you need to, keep a notebook and write down things you think will eventually need changing in the first draft so you don't forget. After you've got the first draft down, take it one chapter at a time editing. And take as much time as you need. That's when you should let your inner perfectionist shine, not when you're just trying to get the bare bones down.
4. Know that your first draft isn't going to be perfect. This one is similar to the last but different as well. It's a lesson that I learned from nanowrimo (look this up if you've never heard of it!) Nano basically gave me permission to write a terrible, horrible, ugly first draft. And that was okay. The only person who was ever going to read it was me. I wrote fast and I wrote badly but the point was that I got it done. I owe nano a lot for teaching me this lesson. The first draft is essentially the bare bones, beefed up version of your rough draft. Your second draft is the one people will read. The third draft is when things start to get serious. You get the pattern? Let your first draft suck. It will help you finish, knowing that even if it feels bad now, you can fix it later. Anything can be fixed. Trust me.
All right my writerly friends. Here you have it - four tips to finally finish a story. I hope this helps you as much as it helped me. Feel free to leave requests for my next post in the comments section and if you like my page don't forget to leave a like! This concludes my first post in the world of writing section. Hope you had fun ;)