Elliot is a writer. He’s excited because he has a new project. His idea is a good one – in fact its the best he’s had, much better than the last one and the one before that. He has a few good characters who seem willing to participate. He can see the completed book in his mind, a masterpiece that everyone will want to read. His daydreams motivate him and he’s eager to start writing. In the first week he spends some time jotting down ideas and realises that he needs to do some research first. The research takes longer than expected so he flits back and forth between writing and researching. Through his research Elliot discovers several other books written on the same theme, same genre. He is gutted. The idea doesn’t seem so good anymore. He abandons it.
Jacky is a writer. She’s excited because she has a new project. But Jacky is wary of her own enthusiasm and decides to sit on the idea for a few weeks. She’s been burned before by “good ideas” that have turned out to be dead ends. So she incubates. As she daydreams about the idea her confidence begins to grow and she thinks this might be the one she was looking for. It’s original, it’s classy, it’s flawless, she cannot possibly be wrong. She starts talking to her friends and relatives about the idea. She talks a lot about it. They’re enthusiastic and encourage her to write the book, telling her they’d love to read a story like that. Jacky talks to more people and discovers they too think it’s a good idea. She fantasises about the writing process, what the characters are like, how the book will be received. She decides she needs to incubate some more before writing. Months pass and Jack still hasn’t started. The idea has lost her attention – a new and better idea is forming.
Harry is a writer. He’s had three novels published and is currently working on a series of short stories for his website. Every day is a brawl with his inner critic. It seems every new idea he has, every new project started, his inner critic finds some reason why it won’t work. But Harry knows something Elliot and Jacky don’t: He knows how to follow through.
Follow through – finish doing something, to take further action as a consequence or extension of a previous action, especially to continue something through to completion¹. The antonym of follow-through is abandon. Synonyms for abandon are dump, ditch, discard, dispose of, throw away, desert, abort, turn your back, walk away, etc.
To continue something through to completion . . . why is it so important and how can we practice it? In my own life I’ve had trouble following through with writing projects. I identify with both Elliot and Jacky, but I’m tired of having incomplete projects, of never reaching the finish line. With my current novel I made a decision to complete it, no matter what. I took some time considering and developing the idea, I thought about why I’ve abandoned projects in the past and thought about ways to keep my interest. One of the best things I did was start this blog – I made a declaration and now I must uphold it.
Follow through is important for writers because it encourages good writing habits, each completed project improves your chances of completing another, it improves your writing skills, finishing projects improves self-esteem and self-confidence and it aids in keeping the dreaded writer’s block at bay.
If you have trouble following through think about these points:
- Define completion – what does it mean to you to finish a project?
- Identify what makes you give up
- Writing begets writing – the more you write the more you will want to
- Understand there is no perfect idea
- Understand there is no perfect time to write
- All ideas need a gestation period, but don’t over do it
- Set goals and write them down
- Plan every step of the process and tick them off as you achieve them
- Keep a writing journal and write about the writing process
- Consider ways to keep your interest in the project. If you lose interest your readers probably will too. Consider it a challenge to keep your own interest
- Don’t allow yourself to loiter – do the research, do the outline or plan and then get on with the project
- Do your research on the genre, but don’t be discouraged by other people’s similar idea. You have something different and new to say
- Remember why you started in the first place
- Take it one word at a time
¹Microsoft® Encarta® 2006. © 1993-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.