That may sound counter-intuitive, but I don’t believe that it is. We all get in our own way sometimes. One form of this is unfinished project syndrome. You’ve got a book or story that’s almost complete, or that just needs one final polish before you send it off, and you are by damn going to finish it if it kills you. This can manifest as an explicit refusal to let yourself start another project till the last one is done. Or it could be less deliberate, something like, every time you try to work on something else you feel guilty about the unfinished project. In either case, the end result is not that the unfinished project gets done, it’s that nothing else does.
Don’t do this.
Yes, you have to finish what you start and send it out if you want to get anywhere in this business. But you don’t have to finish everything that you start. Everybody has unfinished projects. I personally have hundreds. Literally—I was just looking through my unfinished story files.
It is not important that you finish this project and send it out—. It is important that you write, and that as part of writing you finish some projects and submit them. Not all projects. Not this project. Some projects. Even, any projects. The only exception to this is contracted works. Those you do have to finish, ideally by deadline.
But for the rest? Don’t let the stuff you feel you have to do get in the way of writing other stuff. Write what makes you want to write. If that means picking up a new novel and running with it for a while. Do that. The unfinished project will still be there after you finish the next project, and your skills will be improved, making it that much easier to complete if that’s what you want to do.
Finishing things is important, but it’s not nearly as important as doing things that keep you writing. If you’re stuck, let your sense of wonder wander. It’ll drag you out of your funk, and getting to a place where you’re having fun writing is much more likely to result in you wanting to go and finish the unfinished project than forcing yourself to do it ever could.
If you need an outside authority to release you from the geas of the unfinished project, I volunteer:
You don’t have to finish it.
There. When your conscience needles you about it, tell it Kelly said it was okay.
(Originally published on the Wyrdsmiths blog December 14 2007, and original comments may be found there. Reposted and reedited as part of the reblogging project)