Friday, May 20, 2011
Heinlein's Rule No. 2 - Finishing What You Start
While this piece of advice turns up in most how to write books, I don’t think it gets nearly enough emphasis. I have certainly managed to ignore this idea for years. Not this year. And I’m here to tell you following this one piece of advice has made the biggest difference in my writing to date. Simply committing to each story that I start has changed my whole approach.
I think about my ideas differently now, I gather them in my daily journal the same as I always have, but choosing which ones to develop, and which ones to actually launch into a story is now more of a process.
I don’t think it matters how you decide to see your idea through to the end, if you write from an outline (I do), or by the seat of your pants it’s the commitment to finish that will teach you more about writing than any class.
After the heady bon voyage and the thrilling embarkation I usually sail straight into the doldrums of the middle of the story. Navagational equiment will tell me my destination, but with no wind, I'll have to row. And it’s sweaty, hateful work.
Sometimes when I’m adrift in the open ocean I look back across what I’ve written so far and lose heart. I see that the story is not working, that something is broken. In the past this was often the point where I would abandon ship for another enticing idea and begin another story.
But not this year. I’ve come to realize that it’s my duty to save this story or go down with it. What I’ve found is that no book, class, or seminar had taught me how to manage all the elements that go into creating a ripping good yarn. The only way to really learn is to, you know, get in there an manage the elements.
There is also a reward for committing to the characters. Because I’ve made a promise to them, they are free to become more real and to contribute their own individuality to the story. It becomes a partnership, and suddenly the work is fulfilling enough to be the engine that I need to reach my destination.