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
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