Posted in Writing Related

I Can’t Finish Any Stories

This wasn’t the blog post I intended to write. But it’s something that has been plaguing me enough that it just came out. So, here it is:

I can’t finish any writing that I start.

Yup, it’s true. I have 8 novels and 4 short stories in various stages, but I can’t finish any of them.

So, I had to ask myself, why?

Me trying to finish a story
Me trying to finish a story

 

Because the truth is, I’ve finished stories before.

I have a story in an anthology, a flash fiction story on my blog, and I’ve completed several stories in a creative writing class I took in college a few years ago. Clearly, it is possible for me to finish a story. So, what has gone wrong that I can’t finish anything now?

I think the answer is that ugly, evil creature known as doubt. I don’t necessarily doubt that I can finish a story so much as I doubt that I can finish anything that’s worth reading. I doubt my ability to write. My writing starts off well, everything flows and I can pound out the words. Then, somewhere around a third of the way into a story, I begin to doubt. I doubt my plot, I doubt my characters, I doubt my words. I’m certain the story isn’t worth reading.

Doubt is a killer. It will cripple. Our minds are pretty incredible that way. If we believe we can do something, we have a much better shot at being able to do it. Conversely, if we doubt we can do something, it’s going to be a lot more difficult to accomplish. I am basically sabotaging myself by becoming so caught up in my doubts that I become blocked.

One of the good things to come from this problem is that I’ve paid close attention to my own writing process and played around with different techniques. I know more about myself and what works for my writing than I did before. I know that I need absolute silence in order to begin writing. Once I’m in the zone, people will be ignored. I can’t write to music because I find it distracts me from what my characters are saying and doing, but I do like to listen to inspirational music before I write to help get me in the correct frame of mind.

The most important thing I’ve learned about myself: I write best when I trust myself. I think this is probably a universal truth for writers. When I trust that the words will come and the characters will keep talking, not only do the words flow better but I also find that my subconscious will help tie all the plot points together, even if I can’t see consciously how they should all fit. (Yes, I do make a rough outline, but the characters never seem to stick to it!)

So, my goal is to keep writing and to trust that I can finish these stories without letting myself get mired in doubt. I also need to remember that first drafts are usually terrible and editing is what makes the story shine. I don’t have to have a perfect story in the first draft! I have so many characters that I love, and I want to tell all of their stories. I just have to trust that I can do it.

 

Has anyone had a problem like this and have any insights? I’d love to hear other people’s thoughts.

Author:

Sarah lives in Oregon on a beautiful half-acre with her husband and children. She has a BA in English Language and Literature and has been writing off and on since she was young, but she did not begin to write seriously until recently. She loves being out in nature, eating real food, and making her own beauty products. She is the author of the short story "Forbidden Child" in the Shades of Fear Anthology. www.smlowry.com

8 thoughts on “I Can’t Finish Any Stories

  1. I have been with these problems too. At the moment I have around five short stories I can’t be sure enough to be able to finish them. I have a lot of ideas but when I start developping them I get in doubt if they work as a story. It seems that all plots I imagine is boring or too over the board. I asked a friend to read the half complete story to see if she can give me some insights.

    1. On the one hand it’s nice to know I’m not alone, but on the other, I’m sorry you’re dealing with this too! That’s a really good idea to have someone read them for a new perspective. I should give that a try. I hope it helps you!

  2. I love a certain term a lot of writing guides use: “The Swampy Middle.” They usually mean the tendency for a pantser’s plot to begin meandering and lose direction and speed after the initial action, but for ME, it perfectly describes the feeling I always get at some point –regardless of story length. There always comes a time when I feel simultaneously stuck and adrift. It might hit a third of the way in, or half way, or even when I get close to the final action, but it *will* hit.

    The reasons it happens are varied and overlapping. Doubt, distraction, loss of interest once the newness wears off, boredom–it could be any or all, and in the end analysis, I figure it’s the(lack of) results that matter, so I don’t even worry about why the tree fell down until it’s out of the way. Since I know I WILL hit that boggy slowdown, I have collected a lot of different ways to work around it.

    And I think that’s the biggest thing to realize: no one way will work every time. That every time, you have to run through the same routine. Not fun, but satisfying when it’s over. (Like brushing teeth, or vacuuming?)

    Here are some I like, in no particular order. 1) fairly often, I resort to the mantra “five minutes. I only have to have the file open for five minutes, I can do anything for five minutes, right?” 2) Other times, I try writing the silliest words possible, which I know I won’t keep but gets the imagination moving again. (someone or other calls that “when in doubt add a bear” tactic, and it always creates something fun, even if not useful) And 3) some stories need me to put them away for a bit to let my subconscious ponder elements when my mind is only able to say, “summat t’aint right.”

    There are other techniques too, and getting encouragement from a trusted, enthusiastic reader is one of them. Which trick I try first, and how many I try before shelving a project depends on too many factors to count. But here’s the one huge final point I would share: do not be ashamed if NONE of it works and you feel moved to move on without ever finishing a given thing or a dozen things or a hundred. Self-doubt is a momentum killer, but shame feeds self doubt like gasoline feeds a bonfire.

    They’re all your words. They all contain seeds of art, but some never germinate. Some take many long seasons to sprout. Be patient and nurturing with yourself and have faith in what you sow, and it’s all good.

    Wow, that got long. Novels. There’s a reason I write novels. >.<

    1. Thanks for your thoughts and all the tips 🙂 Shame is definitely a factor that’s fueling the fire of self-doubt. I have used the five minute trick, which I’ve found really useful. I’m a wordy person, so I can usually write something, but I seem to get stuck partway in when I determine that the story sucks, I suck, and there’s no way this plot I originally thought up will work. I’ll definitely be trying some of your tips though, especially writing silly words. And being more patient with myself 🙂

  3. I personally think every word you write is worth reading, and I’m not just saying that because you’re my mom. I truly mean it. Every word you write grabs me as much as the next. I believe that you should stop doubting yourself because you are amazing, and will be a bestseller in no time at all! Your stories are so unique, and take me into a whole different world that I love so much. Keep up the writing, mama! You’re stories are amazing, and need to get out to the world so others can see what I see!

  4. Sarah, your problem is very common among creative people. Their minds just race from project to project. By all means, continue to trust yourself and have faith that you will finish all your projects. I have always had many going at the same time, and always finish the most important ones.

    1. I’d be happy just to finish one, haha! Thank you for your thoughts. It’s nice to know its a common problem, and to hear that someone else has had many projects going and successfully completed them.

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