Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Starter Finisher

If you watched The Apprentice, at the interview stage a former employer apparently described Inventor Tom as not being a Starter Finisher.  Tom looked startled by this, though it didn't stop him from going on to win.  I think Lord Sugar saw Tom as a Starter, with himself doing the Finishing.  

Wouldn't it be great if there was someone who'd do the finishing for all of us?  When I began writing I was brilliant at beginnings and had deskfuls of Chapter Ones.  I was useless at the Finishing bit though.  (I wasn't much good at the middle, either, to be honest but that's another story.)  

Writing short stories helped me.  They were, by definition, short and got me into the habit of finishing.  As I learned about writing and wrote more short stories, I got better about finishing them.  Gradually I realised any ending was better than none, because then you could DO something with them - send out to magazines or competitions, for example.  

Fast forward a couple of years and writing the first draft of my first novel.  I did it in one immense push taking 10 weeks - the school holidays were coming up and I knew I wouldn't be able to sustain writing AND childcare.  I didn't know what was going to be the 'right' ending.  Were my characters going to split up or stay together? I flipped a coin and gave it a 'they stay together' ending.  Later I rewrote and gave it a 'they split up' ending.  Even later I rewrote again and gave it a completely different ending.  

That turned out to be the 'right' ending for the story, but for the first draft it really didn't matter what ending I chose so long as it was there.  I see many students who can write really well but because they never finish any work they can't move on and do anything with it.  People sometimes ask me if I think their work will get published, and I say, 'Finish it first, then ask.'

Unlike Inventor Tom we have to learn to be Starter Finishers because no one will do it for us.  I used short stories to develop my Finishing habit.  Any other suggestions for getting to the point where you can write "The End"?


liz fenwick said...

I think when you finish that first script you become a writer no matter how good or bad it is. It was back in 2004 that I did my first finish - the book was terrible but it was comp-lete and more importantly i learned i could finish a complete novel. Until that point I didn't know I had the staying power or the ability to 'finish'. Once I knew I could then it wasn't a big deal.

Great post.

Liz Fielding said...

Sarah, I think finishing the first story is a breakthrough moment, no matter how short. My first was a 600 words story for small children. It was never published, but it proved that I could round up a story, find an ending and my second attempt was published.

It was the same with my first novel length fiction. It is hugely important to write an ending. Too many books have a great first three chapters (polished for competition), but never live up to the promise.

JO said...

Yes - endings are a challenge. But the great thing about Tom was having such wacky ideas - wouldn't it be wonderful to be that creative and all you needed was a bit of a nudge (well, an Allan Sugar shove) to reach the finishing line?

Writer Pat Newcombe said...

Finishing is a challenge to most people as the excitement of starting a new project wears off and it becomes a chore! Fighting through to the end gives one a great sense of achievement no matter how good or bad the finished project is.

Fiona Faith Maddock said...

Experience has taught me that working out the ending of the story is far harder than starting it, or even sorting out that saggy middle. Too many options make it difficult, and working out which is the most satisfying ending to the reader is the next hardest. I agree with those who have commented. It is an important milestone to reach, to have the ending. Make sure you have one. You can improve it or change it later.

Chris Stovell said...

For a novel, it was giving myself permission to write the scene I needed to write instead of the one that came 'next' that got me to the end. I often discovered that the scene I thought ought to be there wasn't necessary.

During a really tough spell, I made myself write a daily haiku. Nothing worthy of the name, but purely as an exercise. It helped to teach me about the stages I go through before I'm happy to call a piece 'finished'. Pretty much the same as for a novel, in fact, with much grief and frustration along the way! Except, of course, that's not quite so easy to justify abandoning seventeen syllables as it is a 90,000 word novel. By going through the process and learning about the way I write, I'm (I hope!) better equipped for the tough stages, knowing that if I stick with it, I'll get to the end!

Sarah Duncan said...

Liz - knowing you can do it is half the battle I think.

Liz - my first was a 400 worder. I was amazed at myself for finishing, and puzzled because I couldn't see how I could ever write anything longer.

JO - we have to develop our inner Alan Sugar (Hmm, thinks again about that!)

Pat - you're right, it's the sense of achievement of coming to the end of a difficult and long journey.

Fiona - You're right, everything can be improved once that milestone has been reached.

Chris - haiku writing sounds a good way to learn about finishing and that sense of satisfaction - and a way of keeping the writing muscle exercised when the novel isn't going so well.

Debs Carr said...

I still remember the astonishment I felt when I finished my first novel. Now I've just got to get one of my books published and stop re-writing them.

Mama J said...

Finishing a novel can be difficult but my main problem is, once it's finished and I leave it for a few weeks, I never go back to it because a week or two down the line, I've convinced myself it's utter tat and not worth bothering with.

womagwriter said...

I came from the short story route too, though I also had two incomplete novels under my belt (one at 55,000 words) before I began writing shorts seriously.

Managed to finish my WIP by giving up on any difficult bits and just pushing forwards all the time. After I'd written The End it was much easier to deal with the tricky sections and in fact I ended up cutting some of them out altogether. You need to look on that first draft as a rough cut - like a scultor who's shaped the stone but now needs to put in the detail and polish.

Sarah Duncan said...

Debs - Re-writing, or write another? That's a hard call - and I feel a blog post coming on! But at least you're finishing them, and that is the most important thing because most people don't.

Mama J - oh, I know the 'it's all rubbish' syndrome all too well. I'm often surprised when I read stuff that I 'knew' was rubbish later and discover that it's not that bad after all. You need time and distance to get there. Whatever you do, though, don't throw it out.

Womagwriter - I agree 100%, the best way to finish is to hop over the bits you're finding hard to write - I put an XXX so I can use Find later on to locate them. It's true that once you've got to the end you often find either you don't need them, or that they're now easy to write because you know what has to go in them.