Reflection #6: Finishing a Book
Few things feel as good as finishing a book. Forget for a moment getting it published. Forget holding it in your hand. Just finishing a book feels pretty good. In fact, returning to the subject of advice for aspiring writers, let me say a few words on the value of finishing what you started.
A lot of people who talk to me about my books mention along the way that they are writing a book or would like to or once started one, but I frequently get the picture of a good idea that has yielded twenty or thirty pages but is now languishing in a box or on a disk somewhere. To all of these and others who haven't said a word about it but are thinking of writing or aspiring to write, I'd say finish. Show yourself that you can stick with something and execute an idea, even if it never goes anywhere. Finishing a project doesn't guarantee you'll get it published, but not finishing will guarantee you won't.
Some reasons why people stop include the following. (1) It's harder than you might think. After the inaugural burst of effort, energy and creativity, you realize somewhere along the way that there's a lot of discipline and sticking to it involved. Getting started with an appealing idea is easy; finishing is hard. (2) Another factor is that it takes time. It means finding time with regularity to devote to writing, which means sacrificing something else. That means it has to remain a priority, and this is another impediment for many. (3) Fresh ideas, believe it or not, can be a distraction. When writing a book takes months and even years, you can find yourself in the curious position of being semi-sick (or even fully sick) of the story you are telling and more excited about the new idea you had the previous week. The temptation then is to drop the half-finished book in the hope that pursuing the new idea will rekindle your fire for writing.
All of these and more become obstacles to completion. I should know, because each of them in their own way played a part in my failure to complete the first "real" novel I began several years ago. I planned it out and dove in and got about two thirds of the way through when I dropped it, for many of the reasons listed above.
Fortunately, something which seemed unrelated at the time happened that helped me pick up the pieces. I was assigned to teach a class on Christian apologetics at the high school where I worked. I was excited but frustrated because there was no book that did exactly what I wanted to do. I decided I'd write my material for class, and so I outlined a book and started writing handouts to guide class discussion. When the year was over, I'd completed the "book" I'd outlined and had a complete text. To be sure, it wasn't a novel, but it was a finished writing project that I'd seen through to the end and completed despite the busyness of teaching and life. Shortly after that, I began to revisit the fantasy novel idea I'd had years ago, reasoning that if I could make time to write my apologetics material during the school year, I could write other things as well.
So it was that a year later, in the summer of 2000, I sat down to begin to seriously outline "The Binding of the Blade," although it wasn't called that at the time. Since then, I've been able to enjoy the pleasure of finishing the book I've started a few times. In fact, in the next few weeks, I'll be able to sit back and enjoy the completion of my fourth novel in as many school years. Finishing a book isn't a testimony to talent, and I don't want to be misunderstood. As I said before, finishing doesn't guarantee anything. Even so, as I prepare to finish book four, I can already feel again the immense satisfaction at having seen the process through to completion. In writing, as in much of life, finishing what you've started is an important discipline that we should cultivate more often than not.