The Release of Finishing

Long ago, a writer once told me about some statistics, and they go something like this:

  • A huge percentage of people—let’s call it a jillion—think they can write a book.
  • Out of that jillion, millions will actually start to write the book.
  • Out of those millions, only a small fraction will ever finish the book.
  • Even a smaller fraction of that fraction of books written is ever published.

You’ve heard this too, right?

Up until a few years ago, with the advent of self-publishing, writers had little control over that last point.  And so, as I was starting my writing career, I threw it out.  If I couldn’t control it, why sweat it?  I just refused to consider the low probability of publication.  What I could control, however, were the first three points.

Of course, I knew I could write a book.  After all, I’d already written one for my personal amusement when I was twelve.  And then there were all the books I’d dreamed of writing.  My friend Melanie and I wrote all the titles for our own Nancy-Drew-like series that we planned during our tween sleepovers.

So when my writer friend quoted those statistics to me when I was a twenty-something, I jumped right into the second point and started writing my book.  Wisely, I figured I would never finish it if I didn’t ever start it.  It turned out to be awful, and it resides in the bottom drawer of my desk as a sort of trophy.

Because I finished!  I was no longer one of the jillions, nor one of the millions.  I was a fraction.  I was a finisher.

And finishing gave me a sweet release.  It still does.

I am not talking about the kind of finishing that includes all the detail work that eventually results in a published book on the shelf.  I am talking about “just” finishing a first draft.  It is “just” a very big accomplishment!  Getting to the end of a story, any story, no matter how flawed it may be and how many more drafts may await it, is a huge milestone.  Writing “The End” puts to rest those doubts that always plague the beginning of each project—can I do it this time?

Yes.  Yes, you can.  Just finish the book.

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13 thoughts on “The Release of Finishing”

  1. What’s the saying? “Write. Keep writing. Finish what you write.” Yes, there is a huge amount of relief in putting those two little words – “the end” – on a first draft!

  2. Right, Mike! It’s not always easy letting go.

    Heinlein’s Rules, Mary, are really tough. Maybe that helps bring relief to the end.

    I’m so glad, Kristina!

  3. It’s a quality of life issue, isn’t it? If you’re only writing to get published, and those are your odds, then it’d be easy to feel defeated. But if there is intrinsic value to the act of writing, then every day is a good day. And, if perchance, you are published, maybe you’ll make back enough money to pay for your reading addiction.

  4. Oh, Keenan, what a wonderful sentiment! My favorite writing saying draws inspiration from both Sue’s words and Mike’s thoughts, you can’t edit a blank page! So I’m at my desk plodding along even on days when I think–oh, this is AWFUL, I can’t think of a thing.

  5. What a great post! One of my profs said that about dissertations, too–“the most important thing is that you cross the finish line.” (Which I repeated to myself a LOT during the process.)

  6. I love this post! I’m one of those people who, once I accomplish one goal, already have my sights set on the next one. It’s hard for me to take a moment and celebrate what a big win just finishing something can be! Thanks for the reminder, Sue! 🙂

  7. So right, Keenan! Ha ha! I have a long wait to see reimbursement for my reading addiction!

    I love that thought of the finish line, Theresa and Cynthia! Makes it all so tangible.

    You’re welcome, Kate. Let’s celebrate!

  8. The night before my first book came out, my friend told me to think of what Lorne Michaels says about Saturday Night Live: The show doesn’t go on because it’s ready, it goes on because it’s 11:30. There comes a time when we have to let our creativity go and believe in the process!

  9. Great reminder, Kristi! One of my writer friends wrote all the way to the last chapter of her wonderful book, and then quit. Who knows what would’ve happened had she gone on?

    I love that quote, Diane! Absolutely.

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