Trick and Treat: The Unfinished Business of Writing

How many novels have you started? Count them.

How many have you completed? Be honest.

I asked this question at Random’s FB page and found that many writers have more unfinished novels than finished. Some writers wouldn’t divulge how many incomplete stories they had.

Why is it easer to start a novel then to complete one? What makes us stop and start another story before the first one is finished? I have eight. Four are completed but need more edits. But I’m already getting excited about starting a new novel for NaNoWriMo (National November Write Month) than finishing those four incomplete ones. Why?

I don’t know for certain, but I have my theory:

As writers we’re creative people. We create. We have awesome ideas. New stories are fun and exciting. Creating is more of a right brain thing. We don’t have to stick with any guidelines. We can let our minds wander and flow from our brain to the tips of our fingers as our stories play a movie in our head. Our thinking in the right brain is spontaneous and influenced by emotions, such as our mood, or external emotion triggers–things that mess up our lives. With the right part of the brain, we use our imagination, fantasize, bringing our experiences and personal beliefs along the way.

The hard part–rewriting, focusing, following through, organizing, structuring our time–that’s difficult. That takes discipline. Us righties flit. We get bored easily, so we like to move from one project to another when our attention wanes. Those left-brained skills don’t come as easy. We have them, we simply prefer the other.

I believe that’s why many talented writers aren’t published. They don’t have enough of the left-brained glue to finish a project and avoid distractions.

So how can right brainers train themselves to think more like lefties and complete what they started? Is it even possible?

Yes, I believe it is. Anything is possible, but training your brain isn’t easy. You have to want it. You have to work at it and know that it’s not going to be easy. And you have to learn how to TRICK yourself.


Here’s what I mean:

  1. Allow yourself creative moments, plenty of them.
  2. Turn off the television, FB, Twitter, anything that will distract you.
  3. Then, for a small portion of you day, trick yourself into believing you’re someone else–someone who is more left brained and structured, organized. Picture that person sitting in front of your unfinished novel. (I know you can do this because you have an imagination, right? When you write you pretend you’re that character, so why can’t you pretend you’re someone who completes their work?)
  4. Think about the novel when you’re in the shower, or folding the laundry, or making dinner. Picture yourself finishing it, writing until the end without stopping.
  5. Hold yourself accountable. Set the timer for that amount of time you’ll be the “other” person. Put on a different hat if it will help you get “into character.”
  6. Celebrate small victories. When you take your leftie hat off count how many words you produced and do a dance, grab a piece of chocolate, or whatever reward you value.
  7. Promise yourself that you can’t move to the next project until this one is complete, but that it’ll be worth it in the end.
  8. In your down time, work to strengthen your left brain with word and number challenges like crossword puzzles and Sudoku. Games like chess and bridge also help develop sequential thought processes.
If you can find the discipline to TRICK yourself into completing your novel, the tastiest TREAT will come in the end.
Do you think you can do it? Or, is this idea the most bizarre you’ve ever heard?


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  1. Robin says:


    I love these suggestions. They’re a fabulous way to really get writing done. I think, too, that this is an excellent way to trick oneself.

    I counted and I have finished four novels and I’ve started 4, which includes the one I’m working on right now.

  2. Hi Robin,

    Sometimes I worry that my mind is a little wacky, so thanks for your kind comments.

    Wow, I didn’t know you’ve finished four novels already. Well done! When are you going to submit them? Looking for an agent? Keep going. Hope to see you at writer’s group Thursday night.


  3. Hi Michelle, great post as always. Would not expect less. I have completed two novels, and a children’s story. I also have three other concepts whirling around my brain. I also have a Western treatment based on ex-slaves who became soldiers, and Indian fighters, after the Civil War. My problem is as follows…do I self publish, or go the traditional way? Also, how do I find a descent screen writer whom I can trust, who will transfer my treatment into a good script! This is a dilema that many aspiring writers encounter.

    I have spoken to a few of these individuals, and the first thing they want know is, how much self-publishing will cost. They just don’t have the necessary funds, and are reticent in approaching traditional publishers, as they feel that this route will not open any doors. As a result, their stories just sit there.

    To write, or not to write. That is the question of the day. Solutions galore. That’s what many nof us need.
    God bless you Michelle.

  4. Hi again. I would like to add another suggestion, which would be number 9. I watch movies that are moving in content. I observe the actors, and the characters they portray, and develope. As I watch, I see some of my story characters come to life. Writers are actors in a sense. When you develope your characters, and begin write about them, pretend that you are that particular character, and act out each paragraph, which to me represent scenes. Just a thought.

  5. Hi Johnny!
    Thanks for the compliment! It sounds like you don’t suffer with the “unfinished” business of novel writing. Yours are complete. Well done!
    As far as self-publishing versus traditional publishing, it’s a different answer for everyone. It depends. Not a real definitive answer, I know, but it depends on whether you want a career at being a novelist, or whether you want to publish a one-time book.
    For instance, some writers don’t want to wait to publish their novels, maybe it’s because they have a platform and want their book to accompany their speaking engagements, so they find a way to self pub (which, btw, isn’t too costly. I’ll have to post about this soon.) The problem with self-publishing is that too many writers aren’t getting their novels edited first and they’re making a bad name for those who have self published a well-edited book. (There are many, many authors who have been successful with self-publishing but they’ve written a great book and have a tribe already established.) Readers are disappointed when they buy a book that isn’t well edited so they’re more careful about buying a book from a self-pubbed author.
    I’m choosing to wait for the right publisher to “buy” my novels because I believe I’ll gain more marketing and portray a more “polished” image. I want a future as an authoress.
    However, there are days when i question my decision because I get a little excited about getting my books in print. But, in the end, I only have one time to make a first impression and I want it to be the best, so I’m waiting.
    I’ll try to forward info on self-publishing costs and sources to you soon. Hopefully they’ll help your blog readers, too.
    Thanks for stopping by, Johnny.

  6. Great suggestion on the movie! I do the same. I love to see my characters on stage as I’m writing their scenes.

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