Signs You’re Afraid of Finishing Your Manuscript

Every writer has either a desk drawer or a folder on their computer with a manuscript they started but never quite completed.

It might be because the idea was only good for two chapters, they could never dig their way out of a major plot hole, or life became more important than writing the final scene. In any case, drafts weren’t finished.

Then there’s the WIP’s that got further. The ones that made it past the first draft and have been critiqued by betas. Their plots are set in stone. The characters are established and have names, backstories, lives on the page. Edits have been made. Each chapter has been scrubbed of weak words and repeats, but it’s still not finished. Why? Because along with the self-doubt that crippled drafts three to five, the computer crash of draft seven, and the break after edit number three that lasted a month longer than planned, we writers can sometimes be afraid to finish.

While you might disagree because you only have two manuscripts that were half completed, and your current one is “pretty much done”, let me ask you, how long have you been working on the one that’s pretty much done?

I’m working on a four-book YA series. I’ve been working on the series since 2001.

Each book has a manuscript, they’ve all been drafted, edited, two betas have read all four, and book one has been seen by 12 individual readers. Are they finished? No. Could they be? Sure. I’m happy with the characters, the arcs across all four books, and the overall story. I could finish them this year (and plan to), but I also could have finished them last year, maybe even the year before that.

I’m not a lazy or slow writer (even if it sounds like it) and I have the time to finish the drafts. The reason I haven’t is it would mean leaving that world behind. I’d have to say goodbye to characters who’ve been haunting my head for eighteen years. Worse, I’d have to write something new.

It’s moving out of the comfort zone of a fictional world we know so well that can trigger a reluctance to just finish the damn thing. If you can relate, or see yourself in the following signs, you might be afraid of finishing too. In which case, we should start a club.

Signs You’re Afraid of Finishing Your Manuscript

You Repeat Edit

There’s editing that’s needed and there’s editing that’s going over the same paragraph again and again and again, changing a comma and then deleting it.

If you’re reading through your MS and only need to change a word or two every other chapter, the chances are high it’s done. Move on. There are no more edits to be done.

You Live In The Bubble

If you finish, you’ll have to show people. If you’ve got a completed MS, you’ll have to query and deal with rejection. Before that, in the editing stage, you’re in the bubble. The nothing-has-been-rejected-I-haven’t-failed bubble.

In that bubble the only person you have to answer to is you. You’re allowed to think it sucks, it hasn’t been confirmed as a suck-fest by anyone else. The trouble with living in the bubble is you can’t grow as a writer or make your MS the best it can be. Burst the bubble, live on the edge, show it to others and put it out on submission. It’s what your MS was created to do.

You’re Afraid To Let Anyone Down

This goes for others and for yourself. Writers can put a lot of expectations on their own shoulders, afraid that what they’re working on hasn’t lived up to their grand plans. It’s enough to put a permanent pause on typing “The End”.

It’s okay to be afraid of letting anyone down, but please don’t let it stop you from completing your MS. More often than not, you’ll find out those fears are unfounded.

You Need To Learn Just One More Thing…

Learning how to improve your craft is a great habit to get into. No matter how long you’ve been writing, if you’ve already done a course, or if your writing desk is full of How To books, you can always learn something new. Learning new tricks only becomes an issue when you use it as an excuse to keep going back over your MS instead of finishing it.

Yes, discovering how to show, don’t tell was the breakthrough you needed in draft ten. And draft fifteen was better after applying that plot structure you spent weeks learning. But if you’ve reached draft fifty and are still looking for ways to “improve” your WIP, it’s time to consider you’re avoiding finishing and delay acquiring any new writer skills until you start your next WIP.

You Have Procrastination Down To An Art Form

If there’s one thing writers do other than wallow in self-doubt and drink tea, it’s procrastinating. When you’re nearing the end of your MS, the lure of procrastination becomes even stronger.

Instead of editing the final chapter it becomes paramount you finish watching Tidying Up with Marie Kondo because you can’t possibly write until all your clothes have been through the KonMari folding method. Here’s a crazy suggestion: do that afterward, when you’ve saved your final changes.

Writing is scary. Editing feels like an endless task and showing your work to others is monumentally scary. Finishing your book should be the easy part, the part that is the reward for all of your hard work.

Don’t be afraid of it, embrace it. There’ll be more fictional worlds to visit, plots to untangle and new characters to meet. But not if you don’t finish your current manuscript.

— K.M. Allan

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40 thoughts on “Signs You’re Afraid of Finishing Your Manuscript

  1. I had a manuscript I started in 2011 and completed that year. It was a travel biography. I gave to it another human two years later. She loved it, but said it was skeletal and it should be novelised. I started novelising it years later. I got 70K words in and queried it. An agent told me it was not my first novel (“You’re not Liane Moriarty,” he said), but my fifth. He told me to go away and write my first novel – a simple, linear story – which I did. *That* is the one I published in 2017. BUT, I just mined the original story for my third book. As I wrote it, it will never see the light of day, but it included some great fodder for book three.

    That 15K fairy tale I wrote 15 years ago and want to turn into a novel…hmmm.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing, Sandy. I’ve often wondered the same thing, if my current WIPs are just making me a better writer for the next book, which may be the successful one. Did you hear the AWC podcast with Ben Hobson? His published book was the 5th book he’d written, and that fact always stuck with me.


  2. I feel the same way! It took me six months to draft out most of my first novel, and then another six to finish the last chapter. Saying goodbye to your characters is like saying goodbye to your family! You made them, so they’re basically your children…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You nailed it on so many levels.

    Sometimes we just want to hang on to it a little longer or maybe it comes down to the idea of not wanting to say goodbye. We get attached to these people and the adventures they took us on. Their world is a great place to be and now we have to step aside and wish them well.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Such a truth, this fear is real. With my first novel I reached I point when all I did in a whole edit was change one or two words…yet I still went back to chapter one and “edited” again…and again.
    I wonder if this will be different with novel 2? I read the comments above about potentially writing simply to strengthen your writing ready for future books to get published. At the time I couldn’t bear that thought, but as I write novel and allow myself to pick out the plots for future stories I think this could be true for me.
    Thanks for another wonderful post, Kate! x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, M. Everything we write helps us become better. Sometimes those early manuscripts don’t become what we thought they would, but sometimes they do. I’m sure it’ll be different for your second novel because you’re already a more experienced writer and editor thanks to (your very excellent) novel one 😊.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I don’t have a pile of unfinished/abandoned manuscripts for a single reason: I did not start several projects, at least not yet. I have some early drafts of the next parts of my current project to squish the gap between the individual books but those need to follow some order for obvious reasons.
    Anyway, that doesn’t mean a lack of fear. As I am getting closer to beta and hopefully finishing book one this year, my fears have a different form: all the things I’ll need to do to convert it from a file in my PC to a real book – such as finding a cover artist and eventually marketing (which is one of the scariest words in the world). I fear marketing way more than the possibility of no one liking my story.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You said it Tomas – marketing is the silent killer! It’s expensive, time consuming and requires computer and business knowledge some us simply don’t have. I can recommend a good cover artist, but you may want to consult with someone else for marketing help!

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Ruth Miranda

    Nope, I don’t see myself in any of the above. MIne is “NO one is ever gonna like this, no one is ever gonna understand this book, or what I tried to do here.” Usually, I’m pretty right. Yes, I’mt THAT conceptual, in my books. (no I’m not, maybe I’m just a messy writer ahahahahah)

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I don’t now if I have ever been afraid of one of my manuscripts, per se. I always finish whatever project I am working on. But I am struggling with my current WIP. It is more complex that what I usually write, and I keep changing my mind on what it is supposed to be. I guess the doubt had to come to me eventually. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: Author Inspiration and This Week’s Writing Links – Staci Troilo

    1. I wrote this blog when I was going through what you’re going through and I’m glad to hear it still resonates. Good luck with the querying, Naomi!


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