Saturday, May 14, 2016

Staying on the Road to Completion

By Lacey Gunter

The message of how important it is to follow through and complete your WIP comes up frequently in writing conferences and classes. For those of you who have completed manuscripts before, you know that this task can be really tough. That romance you felt with the characters and the story at the start of writing has usually long since fizzled before you finish. It is hard and sometimes almost painful work. You have to be a strict task master with yourself to finish and you probably sometimes ask yourself if maybe it would be better just to set aside your WIP and work on something else.

 Are there situations when finishing your WIP really isn't that important? I am a bit of a finishing junkie. I love that feeling of having something complete. This is not because I have a great natural talent for follow through. Quite the opposite, I have a natural tenancy for procrastination and distraction. It is for this reason that I feel so good when I complete something. I have overcome my natural tendencies and conquered the task. Having said that, I do feel there is one situation where shelfing a WIP and starting something new is a good idea. If you have discovered or learned some information which presents credible evidence that your WIP is simply unmarketable and completing it will not benefit you in some way (i.e. it is not a story you need to tell such as a family history and you don't need to prove to yourself you can complete a manuscript), then, by all means, stop wasting your time and move on to something more productive.  Most desires to quit a manuscript don't fall into this category. So when those feelings of disenchantment strike, what do you do to overcome it?

Here are some strategies I have learned to help me stay on the road to completion:

1. Set clear concise and achievable goals: Small tasks can be easily winged. It's a lot harder to complete a big multistage task in a reasonable amount of time without a little planning. And breaking that big task up into manageable chunks can make the task seem less overwhelming.

2. Couple those goals with deadlines and consequences: Being a natural procrastinator, my creative juices are usually like thick sludge right up until the last possible moment when they finally start to flow like a river. One way I have found to combat this is to create deadlines for myself. I don't mean those flimsy artificial deadlines you write on your calendar and no one else really cares or sees except for maybe your spouse. Instead I create real deadlines in which I will face some level of consequence for failing to meet, such as public embarrassment. One example of this might be joining a critique group where you are required to submit something for critique on a consistent schedule. No one wants to ready the same chapter they read last month with little or no improvement. You lack of progress with grow annoying very quickly. Things like this can be a very good motivator.

3. Learn the difference between a break and a reward: Everyone needs breaks. Your ability to think creatively, focus on the task and produce good writing wanes over time without small periods of rest. Everyone knows this. But don't let your self-directed breaks look more like the kind of activities you do when you've already completed a hard day's worth of work. What do breaks look like in a supervised work place? You go the bathroom, eat a small meal or snack, maybe take a very short walk or do a small amount of reading and then you are right back on the job.  This is what a break should look like. It should not look like an hour and a half on Facebook or Pinterest. These are the types of activities that should be used as awards for accomplishing a difficult task.  If you feel you need more time away from a stressful scene in your WIP than a short break will allow, make it the kind of break that counts. Go to a different, more enjoyable section of your WIP and work on that. This is the way to stay on task and get things done.

4. Choose imperfection over a stop in production: Don't let yourself get so stuck on getting the perfect writing or the perfect storyline that you end up doing nothing at all. This type of thinking does more than just waste time. It can erode your confidence to a point of impeding your ability to succeed or even progress. When I find myself in a state like this, I repeat the mantra to myself "something really is better than nothing". Get something down. Go back and edit it later when the pressure is not so high and you are able to think a little more clearly or can see it from a different perspective. It is amazing how well this technique works.

These are some of the strategies I use frequently to help finish my WIPs. What techniques have you found successful?

Don't give up. You can do it!

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