Should I finish the Book? If ya gotta ask, then, NO!

The real question is, why write? Why do YOU write? If you want to entertain yourself, then writing is like cooking. Cook until you like it, then lick the knife and eat. It is your kitchen, your creation, for you alone. However, if you seek recognition and acclaim, or, if you merely want to entertain a few, then you have to finish the book as a very least effort.

Let us get to specifics. When is the book or story you are writing the one you wish to finish? When it entertains you. If you can’t work up enthusiasm for a story, as the creator, then how do you expect anyone else to get excited? This doesn’t mean there aren’t times when the words refuse to come that you wish to use. Too bad for you. However, just because the sauce is a little stubborn about thickening doesn’t mean it is ready to toss out. Nope, there are a variety of methods an experienced cook learns to make that sauce thicken and vary the flavor. It doesn’t really matter if the flavor isn’t quite what the cook or writer intended when she started the meal or the book, because the readers or guests will never know what the cook’s tongue had in mind. What will matter is their own experiences of the work.

I had an (as in ONE) idea for a story since I was about fifteen years old and fascinated with science fiction, history, and abandonment adventure stories. An abandonment adventure story is like Tarzan by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Contrary to what most people think, there were many books of Tarzan adventures. Edgar Rice Burroughs also wrote a Mars series, John Carter of Mars and Venus, I don’t remember the character isolated there. Robinson Crusoe and others fascinated me. Then I discovered Georgette Heyer and read all of her regencies. So, imagine what my ONE story idea must have included! Anyway, I thought if I ever met an author I would tell them about my idea and they would write it and then I’d know how the story ended. Then about ten years ago, I read a romance story about an author and found out that authors have so many ideas of their own, they wouldn’t ever need or want one of mine. I tossed that book down in disappointment, just when my beloved walked it. He said, “Bad book?” and I explained the problem. He gave me one of those dumb sh#t looks and said, “If you’d written a page a week since you were fifteen, you’d know how it ended by now.” I decided to start writing that book the next day. But during the day, as I thought about that story beginning, nothing came. I was blank. But, as I lay my head to the pillow that night, an idea jumped into my head of the main character’s younger sister who was so inspired by the older sister, that she took matters into her own hands. I got out of bed and wrote the first lines of the new story so that I wouldn’t forget them the next morning.

I wrote that story. As it commenced and finally finished, I knew how the older sister’s story went. Someday, I’ll write it. It took me eight months to finish the first novel. I had no idea how long a novel was. It came to a natural closing for me. During the time of writing it, I wondered at first if I had enough story in me to have it longer than a short story, then as it unfolded I worried there would never be an end. But it did, end, I mean. And at a natural point.

Since that first story, my imagination has gone wild and for a time I was extremely concerned about my mental health. A good friend found a taped interview of an author and made me listen to it. Thankfully, I’m not mentally ill, I’m just a writer who didn’t know it. Since writing that first story, my other abilities and talents have improved dramatically. That is a weirdness of its own. As my abilities expanded and the ideas gushed forth, I branched out into other writing and discovered some other little issues.

Genres. Which ones to write since I read them all? I began to write down beginnings to stories. I have contemporary ones, fantasy ones, historical ones, and even tiny vignettes, complete as they are.

One, a favorite of others, The Ship’s Bastard, about an infant raised by sailors, is a struggle to write. I will finish it because so many want to read it. But, that sixty-three pages has cost me four years. That is how hard that one is to write. If it were only me, I’d toss it in a corner and never finish. But I promised. I will never write the western, The Children of Easy Virtue Texas, where it is easier to live than explain where you came from. I am chafing at the bit to begin another Zone story. I have two Proving Zone novels written, both about the same length as well as time of writing, and ideas for more of them. I have over twenty-two ideas for Zone stories. The Proving Zone novels flow like water from my fingers. Those, somehow, I am meant to write. Other story ideas—maybe. So, should you finish the book? It depends on why you are writing it. Perhaps you should be working on a different one.

One last thought. Whenever you finally get a contract to publish, if that is your goal, make sure that the story you have is the type you wish to write for a very long time. Popular writers end up writing themselves into a corner because their fan base wants the kind, type, and flavor of book that they bought the first time they bought and read one.

One really last thought. Writing is never wasted. It is a precious skill and unique to our specie. Your family, your progeny, your neighbor, or some stranger will think your writing a very precious thing. Some stories aren’t published because their time hasn’t come yet. Many classics and bestsellers were found after the author was dead. I think Gone With The Wind is one. Some colleges are beginning to study the writing phenomena and how is accomplished. Your written words, phrases, finished, and unfinished stories as well as notes and scribbles are just as precious to someone, who may or may not be related to you, as Aunt Thelma’s chipped powder box that she inherited from her step-mother, June Ann is to the Smithsonian. Never think your writing has no value and no purpose.


Joan Vincent said...

I love your writing/cooking analogies and they are sooo true. So much information in an easy to read entertaining style! I too once wondered about my mental condition. All those fictitious characters running around and speaking in my head seeming more real at times than the people I actually dealt with in real life. Worse I actually "see" my characters too and some are worse than kids about doing what I want. It was consoling to find other writers had the same things happening.

Hitting a wall while writing a book can mean many things. The only time I did so I ended up tossing out 100 pages and finished the story in a much different direction. I believe it turned out a better story for it but then I've learned (read been trained) to follow my characters (who do nothing if I don't )not have them follow me.

I fully agree that writing is never wasted even if no one else ever reads what you've written. It is an expression of yourself that is fulfilling in its own way. It's a lot like raising kids. There are moments, sometimes days or weeks, we would rather have done without in raising our children but we still love them. I finish stories, even when they prove difficult or more than difficult because I care about my characters and want to know the details of the ending. If I didn't I don't think anything could make me finish it.

Pat Davids said...

What a wonderful post. You did an excellent job explaining something that is difficult for non-writers to understand.

I'm in book 2 of my Amish series, but I really want to write book 3. It calls to me. This one was an afterthought when I knew I wanted to pitch three books.

I will finish this book. I can't pick and choose what I want to write anymore. Deadlines equal money which is not all it's cracked up to be.

Still, there is nothing I'd rather be doing than letting my characters find their voices and writing down what they say.

Becky A said...

Hey Nina,

Another good blog. It's hard to throw stuff out of a book when you've labored so hard to get where you're at. But if it means finishing the story, then it's worth it.
Thank you for making me realize, again, that telling the story is the important thing. Money you can get anywhere!


Rox Delaney said...

Growing up an only child led to having an imagination. People talking in my head is second nature to me. I often wonder how those who don't have voices in their heads manage to get through the day. It's highly entertaining!

Finishing a book is one of the biggest learning experiences a writer can have. It actually makes us writers! How many people say they'd like to write a book someday but never do? If you've written a book and finished it, you're one of a small percentage who has actually made a goal and reached it, not just dreamed about doing it.

Dream your dreams, but finish the book, even if it has to go through a completely new incarnation...more than once. There's no feeling that compares to the satisfaction of writing THE END.

BTW, Nina, LOVE the analogy of cooking and writing!

Reese Mobley said...

Nina, you are a very good writer and an excellent story teller. Thanks for sharing your adventures with us.

Nina Sipes said...

Wow! Thanks for the kind words everyone. You see, writing came so late to me, it was as if a gate opened and flooded my head with weirdness. I'm beginning to get used to it, but without the initial kindness and guiding by Penny toward the warm support of WARA, I'd probably be in a rubber room by now. That's one of the reasons why I value each and every one of you so much. Each of you has a handle on this writing thing that helps keep we newbies afloat. You see, I can't write a good letter, a notecard, a diary, or anything of everyday social use except a grocery list. I envy those of you who are comfortable with WRITING. I came this way from READING only.

The cooking thing vs writing thing. My beloved is addicted to cooking shows. He once made me find on-line a recipe for some kind of Asian short ribs from Emeril. Then I tried to get the ingredients. Ha. I couldn't find two items but made the darned recipe anyway. One thing I discovered at that moment. MY beloved isn't ever going to get a taste of Emeril's Asian Short Ribs so he'll never be able to actually compare mine with Emeril's. Therefore mine will be ok for him.
Writing. I've been in the unique position a couple of times to overhear arguments of what my readers think is going on in my stories. I was so entertained and baffled at first. They didn't read the story I wrote or that each other read because they came to the story with different backgrounds and experiences as well as personal tastes. Hearing how far their experiences diverged was eye-popping. So, whether it is Emeril's Asian Short Ribs or The Proving Zone: Tory's Story, the adventure is as unique as ourselves.

Rox Delaney said...

Nina, you mentioned your writing came from reading. I'd wager that's where most writer's writing came from in the beginning! Reading was a pleasure for me as a child. My dad read to me. I had stacks and stacks of Little Golden Books that I'd look at by the light from my night light. Heaven forbid if my mom caught me! LOL

Yes, I kept diaries, and at one time I had as many as six penpals. I'm sure I bored them to tears with my reams of paper. Writing was an extension of thinking for me and I guess it still is.

Just because you're new to writing doesn't mean you aren't good at it. You're proof of that. :)

As for cooking, I'm not so good at that.

Nina Sipes said...

Penpals? Six? The pressure would have me breaking out in spots! I don't like cooking either. My beloved has discovered that he does. However, he has his farming tendencies. This means he doubles recipes and expects them not to rot while we eat it. He made four pies and when he only managed to eat a few pieces and then the pies went bad, you would have thought it was a plot he was so betrayed. I wanted to laugh and ask he what made him think food would stay as you left it, but took heart and didn't. He was too upset with what homemakers know the first few weeks of cooking.

Joan Vincent said...

I too came to writing from reading. I read a medieval romance that set my mind stewing with a story idea that would NOT go away. I wrote that story in secret--when the kids were in school, late at night when everyone was in bed. Then that got to be way too much trouble so I decided to go "public" and take the ridicule. Surprisingly--at least to me--I got very little of the latter.

Pen pals --I've had mind for over 50 years. We're like sisters. Postage was 4 cents when we started and we now email.

You are an extremely good story teller Nina. I love reading your posts.

Starla Kaye said...

Why do I write? Because I have to. It's my way of getting all these people and their varied lives and problems out of my head. Yep, I'm a tad crazy...maybe possessed. But, hey, I'm okay with that.

I wrote my first story, The Little Family, about a family about six inches tall when I was ten. I was fascinated with lying on the floor and trying to envision a world where everything I knew as reality was gigantic to these people. The idea still fascinates me.

I've gone on to writing lots of unique characters, which includes my odd little series starring Blossom, a cow, and her bullfriend, Ferdinand. They, in truth, are some of my most beloved characters and I always enjoy coming back to write another little tidbit in their lives. Will I ever draw them together into an anthology? Probably not. But not every "book" needs to be finished. Sometimes it is just about the pure joy of writing it.

Penny Rader said...

I love reading your blog posts, Nina.

Writing doesn't come naturally to me. That said, finishing my first book was an incredible high.

This is probably not going to come out right, but I'm one of those writers who likes having written the book more than the actual writing of the book.

I do think finishing the book is important, especially for an unpublished writer, for a couple reasons: 1. You learn you can finish a book. 2. Most editors won't buy a book from an unpubbed author unless it is finished.

Now I just need to prove to myself that I can write another book.

Nina Sipes said...

Thanks for more kind words on my peculiar writing style. I'm loving ALL the blogs. I don't get a chance to read them when they come out, but they are packing quite a punch. Everyone else's is so informative. Facts and figures and real info. I've determined I need to print them off for future reference.
Lately, I've been puting writing -FIRST. And I'm accomplishing so much more than before on the OTHER fronts it is amazing. I brought it to my sister's attention that it was weird to be getting so much done when doing the writing first and she gave me one of those dumb sh*t looks (Thinking about it, I get a lot of those....). She told me it didn't surprise her at all. People who do what they love are energized. People who deny themselves from activities they love to get the 'work' done first, lag and drag themselves through their day. They never get to the good stuff. Or so she said.

Starla, I think a story about little people--especially a romance would be a hoot.

Not only did I wonder if I had another COMPLETE story in me, but, according to the conference tapes from 2005, bestselling authors continually face it every time they have to begin a new book. I expect our own roster of authors wonder the same thing. So, it looks like a fear we need to embrace or ignore and pull on our big girl panties, get out our tiny black whips and...oh, wait, that's next....