[Note from Frolic: We’re so excited to welcome author Nancy Stohlman to the site today. If you’re struggling to finish a project, she has your back. Take it away, Nancy!]
There it sits. Maybe it’s a book you started during last year’s NaNoWrimo. Maybe it’s something you’ve been working on since 2005. Or maybe it’s your quarantine project, started in a flurry of inspiration in the spring…and now it’s stalled.
Unfinished work is painful. Projects sitting there are painful. We feel like we let ourselves (and our vision) down. But most of us don’t know how to finish our projects because we don’t get a lot of practice at the skill of finishing.
We get lots of practice at beginnings. Beginnings are fun! Beginnings are full of promise, all hearts and flowers. But even if we’re great at beginning, we haven’t perfected the art of dragging those ideas back to shore and landing them.
And that’s when people quit.
I write flash fiction, stories under 1,000 words, and one of the benefits to writing flash fiction is that you get a lot of practice at finishing. When you sit down to write a flash fiction story you always see the end in sight. Finishing is a skill, like any other skill, and with practice you will get better.
“Finishing” can mean many things. Maybe you need to write the actual ending. Maybe you’re stalled somewhere in the middle, or even in the revising. But if you are in the “90% and stuck” category, you probably need to do one of three things:
You’ve mapped everything out, the entire timeline, a gorgeous synopsis, and you’ve been faithfully following your map…but you’re bored. When you know how your story ends, there’s less motivation to return. No mystery. You already know what’s going to happen, so you aren’t being driven to your computer in the middle of the night with crazy insights and inspiration. No, you are instead following your script, and most days it feels like you’re just punching in on the creative time clock. No wonder you aren’t finished!
What your manuscript needs from you is some spontaneity, some breathing room. You might be really attached to your original vision, you may have spent countless hours mapping it out, but it’s time to “re-vision” your vision. It’s time to give the story some autonomy. Our stories are smarter than we are—and when we try to control and tame them…they can dry up.
Or, on the other end, you have no idea where this project is going at all! You worry that you bit off more than you can chew. It all feels out of control. You’re avoiding it because you’re scared of it, intimidated by the scope of finishing.
Welcome to the creative process. Remember, the muse gives it to us in HER time, so sometimes you just have to be patient. But being patient means showing up every day with an open heart. The long-term relationship of a big project includes the good and bad, the up days and the down days. Your job is to keep showing up. It’s this daily “checking in” with our work that allows it to come to life–or shift gears or whatever it wants to do. Like any relationship, you have to be there consistently, even in small ways, if you want it to trust you and reveal itself.
Sometimes the project is technically “finished” but you’re stuck in the revision process. Maybe there is something missing and you just can’t see it. Maybe it just feels lackluster. Maybe you need to cut some fluff. Maybe you need to go deeper.
In this case it’s time for a second opinion. You’ve been looking at your manuscript for too long and you have blind spots; allow someone who is less invested, and whose eyes are less tired, to give you a new perspective, a fresh vantagepoint. Whether this is a paid professional or a trusted colleague (emphasis on quality here!), remember a good reader/editor will interrogate your text, not rewrite it. They will help you see your project with clear eyes, shine a flashlight into your blind spots, so that you become clear about your next steps.
So whether you need to let go, show up or phone a friend, the important thing is to keep going, if only for the practice of finishing.
Now let’s be clear: There is no shame in quitting a project if you just aren’t feeling the love. Life is too short to waste finishing work we don’t like.
But if you still feel the spark, if your project still has something special, if you’re still curious about how it’s going to end or how to finish what you have started… then it’s time to get yourself back in the game.
Because only you can make your art.
About the Author:
Nancy Stohlman’s new writing book, Going Short: An Invitation to Flash Fiction, is available for pre-order now from Ad Hoc Fiction. She has published multiple books including Madam Velvet’s Cabaret of Oddities, The Vixen Scream and Other Bible Stories, and her work has been anthologized in the W.W. Norton New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fiction and chosen for The Best Small Fictions 2019. She teaches at the University of Colorado and around the world. Join her this November for FlashNano: 30 flash fiction stories in 30 days at: www.nancystohlman.com
Going Short: An Invitation to Flash Fiction by Nancy Stohlman, out now!
Flash fiction is changing the way we tell stories. Carving away the excess, eliminating all but the most essential, flash fiction is putting the story through a literary dehydrator, leaving the meat without the fat. And it only looks easy.
Enter Going Short: An Invitation to Flash Fiction. In this, her treatise on the form, veteran writer Nancy Stohlman takes us on a flash fiction journey: from creating, sculpting, revisioning and collecting stories to best practices for writers in any genre. It is both instructive and conversational, witty and practical, and presented in flash fiction chapters that demonstrate the form as they discuss it. If you’re already a flash fiction lover, this book will be a dose of inspiration. If you teach flash fiction, you’ll want it as part of your repertoire. And if you’re new to the form, you might just find yourself ready to begin