Do you try to finish every piece of fiction you write?

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JonGibbs
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Do you try to finish every piece of fiction you write?

Post by JonGibbs » February 14th, 2012, 11:16 am

Every performer dreads these words: “Boo! Rubbish! Get off! My cat sings better than you, and he’s been dead five years!”

In my days as lead singer and keyboard player with the (deservedly) unsuccessful rock band, Gentleman Jones*, I heard those words often. Luckily, my old gran couldn’t attend every gig, especially after she got banned from the Woolwich Tramshed for injuring two bouncers (she took exception when they told her to at least wait for us to start playing before she hurled ice cubes and abuse at the stage). After the court served gran her restraining order, I remember telling her, “You think those songs were bad. You should hear the ones we don’t play.”

Whether it’s songs or stories, I believe one of the lesser-known skills a writer needs to acquire, is the ability to tell when it’s all going horribly wrong. Many writers find it hard to accept that much of what they create is simply not good enough. In the case of fiction, I’m not talking about prose or even literary style. I mean character development, sub-plotting, even the overall story idea.

How many times have you read bland books in your preferred genre? The blurbs looked great, they were your kind of stories and you were excited to read them. They weren’t badly written or anything, but still they left you with that ‘meh’ feeling.

Sure, someone thought they would sell, and they may even have done so (if the writers were already established and/or had a big marketing organization behind them). I’m sure those books didn’t start out that way, but somewhere between the idea and the finished product, things went off track.

If you read a bland book, are you more likely to read something else by that writer? Probably not.

I know some people feel they should try to finish and publish everything they write, if for no other reason than to get their name out there, but I disagree. To me, recognizing when (and why) it’s time to give up on a story is at least as important as recognizing when (and why) it works. It’s perhaps the main reason I use outlines, because if the big picture isn’t going to turn out okay, I’d rather find out before I spend months working on the first draft.

How about you?

Do you try to finish every piece of fiction you write?


*In deference to the old adage 'Give the public what they want.' Gentleman Jones disbanded in 2004. The band's website has gone, but if you'd like to hear their theme tune, you can find it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D0SXSHBpTMA
Born in England, writer, Jon Gibbs, now lives in the USA. He can usually be found hunched over the computer in his basement office. One day he hopes to figure out how to switch it on.

An Englishman in New Jersey http://jongibbs.livejournal.com

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dios4vida
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Re: Do you try to finish every piece of fiction you write?

Post by dios4vida » February 14th, 2012, 11:36 am

I agree with you, that some things can be irreparably screwed up from conception to execution. But one phrase you used stood out to me:
JonGibbs wrote:...they should try to finish and publish [emphasis mine] everything they write...
This is right. Not everything should be published. There are far more unpublishable piles of drivel than publishable piles of drivel in the world. But to leave them unfinished? I'm not sure on that. I think finishing works, even if your gut's telling you it's bound for the trunk, can be important. You learn so much from finishing a novel, every time you do it. To perpetually write and never finish because it's rubbish can really hinder your learning. First, the sense of accomplishment can bolster you, even though what you've finished is little more than a steaming pile sometimes. Also, going back and editing something you wrote six months ago is one of the biggest teachers, in my opinion. To see how far you've come and how far you have to go, to look back and see your weaknesses - or recognize them in the first place - is a fantastic way to know what skills you have to hone and to make you a better writer.

I think the key here is that you shouldn't try to publish everything you finish. Finishing good - not subjecting people to what they don't want is better.
Brenda :)

Inspiration isn't about the muse. Inspiration is working until something clicks. ~Brandon Sanderson

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Re: Do you try to finish every piece of fiction you write?

Post by Sanderling » February 14th, 2012, 1:16 pm

I have to agree with Brenda here... there's something to be learned from finishing a novel. For instance, if all you ever write are beginnings you'll get really good at starting stories, but you'll be lousy at writing climaxes. Writing through to the end, even if the story isn't good enough to be published, will help teach you how to write an exciting climax. Plus, if you never finish anything you might get yourself into the habit of giving up, so even if something might have turned into a brilliant story, you'll never know.

That said, I do agree there's value in knowing when a story isn't good enough to be worth completing, and when a story is worth finishing but not good enough for publication, and how to identify and separate both of these from a story that just needs a few solid rounds of revision. Some writers are able to intuit this themselves. But for writers who aren't, having a critique partner (someone whose opinions you trust and who is willing to be honest with you) to read your first-draft works-in-progress and categorize them for you is incredibly helpful.
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JonGibbs
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Re: Do you try to finish every piece of fiction you write?

Post by JonGibbs » February 14th, 2012, 2:17 pm

I see what you mean about finishing, though I don't think the logic applies to folks like me who use (an albeit rough) outline from the get go.

Thanks for the input, guys :)
Born in England, writer, Jon Gibbs, now lives in the USA. He can usually be found hunched over the computer in his basement office. One day he hopes to figure out how to switch it on.

An Englishman in New Jersey http://jongibbs.livejournal.com

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Re: Do you try to finish every piece of fiction you write?

Post by Claudie » February 14th, 2012, 2:56 pm

JonGibbs wrote:I see what you mean about finishing, though I don't think the logic applies to folks like me who use (an albeit rough) outline from the get go.

Thanks for the input, guys :)
Well, as one of those folks who uses rough outlines, I'd like to say that the logic does apply too. At least in my case. While outlining will make you good at knowing how you want to end, it doesn't teach you the down and dirty writing skills you need to write those climaxes. It's all good to image a series of scene that brings your project to conclusion, but it's another thing entirely to write powerful moments that'll keep your readers wanting for more. The outline is the theory. Writing the scenes is the practice, and you need to practice.

Both climaxes and the denoument that follows are tough beasts to tackle, and while you might not want to finish every project, you should definitely get the first draft version to completion. I promise from experience that there is much to learn from the actual writing. I've brought 7 out of 8 different WIPs to 1st draft completion (working on the 8th these days), only half of which I might be able to salvage something. It might seem like a waste of time, but it's worth going to extra mile.
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Re: Do you try to finish every piece of fiction you write?

Post by Quill » February 14th, 2012, 4:06 pm

Heavens no, I don't finish everything I start. I strive to finish what is viable.

Not every seed that's planted makes it.

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Re: Do you try to finish every piece of fiction you write?

Post by MattLarkin » February 14th, 2012, 4:44 pm

Usually, I try to finish everything I start. Some things I never try to publish, though. Of course, if I realized a project was totally non-viable before finishing it, I'd stop.
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JonGibbs
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Re: Do you try to finish every piece of fiction you write?

Post by JonGibbs » February 14th, 2012, 5:31 pm

Claudie wrote:While outlining will make you good at knowing how you want to end, it doesn't teach you the down and dirty writing skills you need to write those climaxes
I'd rather learn those down and dirty skills with a story I'm happy with ;)
Born in England, writer, Jon Gibbs, now lives in the USA. He can usually be found hunched over the computer in his basement office. One day he hopes to figure out how to switch it on.

An Englishman in New Jersey http://jongibbs.livejournal.com

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Re: Do you try to finish every piece of fiction you write?

Post by guichizango » February 14th, 2012, 5:49 pm

Do you try to finish every piece of fiction you write?

I don't know if it's a question of finishing or not finishing for me. To be honest, there are WIPs that I have that I have figuratively put on the back burner. It's not necessarily that I'm not going to finish it, but it's time to give the plot/characters/whatever else some major surgery. If it's not working, then find what's wrong and cut. (coming from a medical professional. ;) ) I have one WIP that I still haven't diagnosed the problem yet, but once I figure it out, I think it's going to be one of my better ones.

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Re: Do you try to finish every piece of fiction you write?

Post by amandalinehan » February 14th, 2012, 7:00 pm

If at all humanly possibly, yes, I finish every piece of fiction that I write. I think that's how I'm going to get better. To take everything I write from beginning to end and sticking it out all the way. I always figure I'll improve with the next thing I write.

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Re: Do you try to finish every piece of fiction you write?

Post by Claudie » February 14th, 2012, 11:58 pm

JonGibbs wrote:
Claudie wrote:While outlining will make you good at knowing how you want to end, it doesn't teach you the down and dirty writing skills you need to write those climaxes
I'd rather learn those down and dirty skills with a story I'm happy with ;)
Oh, if you don't like the story at all anymore, that's another thing. I find I have stories that I love but are totally unpublishable. There's no point in torturing yourself with a story you no longer have any personal AND professional interest in.

Before moving on, though, I'd be wary of a few things. It's easy to abandon projects because another came along, and suddenly it feels like the first wasn't good. It's easy to develop a love-hate relationship with our WIPs when we get stuck in the harder parts too. What I like to do when I feel like dumping everything and moving on is what I call a Love List. Simply, I list on paper everything I thought and still think are cool about this story. It typically brings me back to the Love spectrum of the relationship. (Funny note: I think I blogged about this on Valentine's day last year. Weird world, huh?)

But I do agree that if you despise your story, then perhaps it's best to move on.
"I do not think there is any thrill [...] like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success... Such emotions make a man forget food, sleep, friends, love, everything." -- Nikola Tesla

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JonGibbs
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Re: Do you try to finish every piece of fiction you write?

Post by JonGibbs » February 15th, 2012, 5:25 am

One thing I learned from my music days. Just because a song is in tune, doesn't mean it's good. Most of our ideas never made it to the completed song stage, because we learned to recognize when something had potential or was simply okay. A fair number of those we completed turned out less well than we'd hoped. They never saw the light of day - and rightly so :)
Born in England, writer, Jon Gibbs, now lives in the USA. He can usually be found hunched over the computer in his basement office. One day he hopes to figure out how to switch it on.

An Englishman in New Jersey http://jongibbs.livejournal.com

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