Finishing a story is, in my experience, harder than starting a story. I have all the gumption and motivation in the world coursing through my fingers as the ideas flow onto the page. I continue in this vein of frenzied inspiration until…I get near the end. Or rather, the end of the middle.
Then writing with as much vigor and passion as I once did is a vague memory.
I drag my feet. I clean the kitchen, I dust corners of rooms, I check the mail three times a day to “get a walk in” rather than finish my story.
Do you relate? I hope so because this exact calamity is what I’m writing about today.
There are a few phrases every writer goes through with a WIP. One of the hardest is figuring out whether the story is one you should finish or one you should let go.
Deciding If Your Story Is Worth Finishing
With every single story we ever write, no matter the subject, length, or theme, we have to ask ourselves: is this story worth it? Should I be the one to finish this story?
It’s a hard question to ask because the answers can be misconstrued. But it’s vital to ask this question. It could save you a lot of unnecessary work and stress.
Some stories are meant to be told by us. Other stories are meant to be told by other people.
There are numerous factors that influence this decision: time, devotion, the distraction of other projects, the length of time between writing attempts.
The most important questions to ask yourself though are these two:
- Am I still writing this story because I truly feel it needs to be told, or am I writing it to finish a goal for my own pride?
- Can this story be told by somebody else? Should it be told by me? Or should I let it go and trust that someone else will tell the story?
These aren’t quick questions to ask yourself. Spend a bit of time journaling the answers to these questions and your next step will become clear.
If the Story if One You Feel You Should Finish
The get to work! No more dilly-dallying, no more quick distractions. Get thyself a planner, sit thyself in thy chair, and get your head in the place to finish this story. No more leaving your poor story in the lurch.
Create a plan to get yourself on track. Whether you have a word limit or an outline with details about each scene, find a way to break up your story to give you a clear goal every time you sit down to write. You’ll have the ability to track your progress and the end will be clearer.
Once you’ve figured out your plan, give yourself a deadline. This will push you to write the story and finish it by your set deadline so you can move on to getting the story out into the world.
One other thing, and I know this sounds silly, but trust me: I want you to visualize finishing your story and seeing it published every single day. This simple practice will keep you motivated and inspired to finish.
If the Story is Not One You Feel You Should Finish
Firstly, know that letting go of a story is just fine. There’s no cosmic being holding you in a binding contract to finish any story. Let alone one that you’ve figured out isn’t for you to finish. So let it go. Erase it from your planner, your diary, your notes pages. Take it off your calendar. Take a deep breath and let it go.
To help with closure, especially if it’s a story you’ve spent a good deal of time on, you’ll want to take care to file away the pieces of the story, whether that’s character profiles, outlines, chapter drafts, timelines, etc. Put it all together in a folder and file it away. You might come back to it someday and that’s ok too. Otherwise, you have an incredible example of the extent of your mind.
Once you’ve let the story go, you’ll want to find a new story. Seek out new inspiration, write a story idea you had filed away, write a dozen short stories. Whatever it is, don’t stop writing. Get back in the game as soon as you can.
This is a process every single writer has to go through: taking on a new story and letting go of old ones, finished or not. It’s normal and natural, and we learn so much. About what stories we want/need to tell, what stories are not ours, and how our brains best work.
It’s an exciting process, because it always means one of two things: either there’s another new story just around the corner or you’ll finally finish a WIP that has taken up so much of your soul for so long.
Both routes are perfectly ok and perfectly normal. It’s an important lesson to learn both in writing and in life, but one that will serve you well in your life as a writer.