Thursday, January 19, 2012

The most important writing advice

What do you believe is the most important writing advice?

All of us who are writers have, at the very least, one shelf reserved for writing how-to books. All of us who are writers know that most of these books contain a variant of this advice:

“You’ve got to write every day if you want to call yourself a writer! I mean it – every damn day!”

I agree that it’s important to keep the butt in the chair. Sometimes. But I know something that is even more important than writing every damn day. No, really – I mean it.

It’s called finishing what you start.

Whatever you write – whether it be a book, article, essay, short story, stage play, screenplay, blog post, review, press release, etc. – needs to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Successful writers get this – whether success means writing multi-million dollar blockbusters or being the most-viewed writer on a Twilight fan fiction site.

If you don’t end your work, it’s not going to satisfy the reader – or any middleperson who’s going to show it to the reader. It’s like putting half a bra in the window of Victoria’s Secret. That thing won’t get the job done.

We all have notebooks and/or Word documents filled with pieces of writing – a hastily scribbled plot, a sentence as cool and dainty as salmon sashimi, an essay about an idiosyncratic idea that petered out before concluding. (I have all of these, including a piece called “Respecting Your Bowls.” Yes, it’s exactly what you think it is. And yes, I finished it and put it in this blog.) Some of these are potentially publishable – but only if they are complete. The only writers who can get away with having unfinished work published are dead legends, like Ralph Ellison and the incomplete Three Days Before the Shooting. (Even that book would have been better finished.)

Getting back to those every-damn-day writers, if they don’t outright boast about their fortitude, at least they smirk with Puritan pride at their work ethic. But mere output is not what counts. We shouldn’t write to be an example for other writers. We should write for our readers.

Readers who do not care whether or not you write every damn day.

They are not going to read you because you get up at 6 a.m. and write non-stop until midnight (with a giant-sized bag of Lay’s on your desk and a bedpan under your chair). Readers do not care if you write eight hours a day, four hours a day, an hour, half an hour, or fifteen minutes. They do not care if you write every day, every other day, twice a week, or on Saturday afternoons only. They do not care if you write 1000 words a day, or 250 (the average amount of words on one double-spaced, Courier New font page), or a paragraph, a sentence, or even a single word a day.

Readers do care about endings. Your works had better have them.

Just finish what you start, please. If you just can’t pull it off with one idea, toss it and finish another one. But finish.

Once you’ve finished, you’re more than halfway to your readers.


  1. I totally agree, Jennie, and I have a large and unattractive pile of manuscripts that I've started. One thing I did was to create a blog and promise myself (and the blog followers)that I'd write 2,000+ words a day. With all the followers keeping me honest, I actually finished my first major novel, "An Olympic Challenge", and it's now published and on Amazon. Just an idea for getting something finished ...
    Kia ora