Writing, Failing, and Finishing Novels

I’m going to be honest with you. Most of my work is incomplete.

It’s not for a lack of writing. I’ve completed around 300,000 words of writing, and that’s only an approximation. That’s not counting things I’ve discarded over the years, either. That’s 300,000 words of novel manuscripts, short stories, and essays, all produced since I started taking writing more seriously in 2014.

I say that and people go “Then how haven’t you finished a book?”, and that’s hard to answer.

There are thousands of struggling would-be novelists out there right now, staring at a similar pile of half-completed work and wondering why the hell they can’t seem to finish any of it. Some of it may be technically finished, but so flawed that editing becomes a nightmare. Perhaps the novel’s quality is so inconsistent that they feel it needs to be completely rewritten.  Maybe they didn’t plan the story carefully, and now it’s completely out of control.

The most common reason, I’d wager, is the simplest. They just don’t think it’s good enough.

My mountain of finished-unfinished work is the same. I look over my completed or partially completed projects and I feel that some, maybe even all of these reasons are true.

This used to cause me great stress, but I’ve come to realize that it’s nothing to worry about. If I lay my projects end to end, moving from one time stamp to the next, I see a clear progression among them. I see them going from shoddy and hastily written to more competent, more well-constructed, and more complete. All early drafts are flawed, but as time went on, mine became more readable. My second drafts became less laborious to produce. To me, those 300,000 unpublishable words don’t represent failure, they represent improvement.

It turns out, writing is really hard. And you need to do a lot of it to get better.


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