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Every performer dreads these words: “Boo! Rubbish! Get off! My cat sings better than you, and he’s been dead five years!

In my days as lead singer and keyboard player with the (deservedly) unsuccessful rock band, Gentleman Jones*, I heard those words often. Luckily, my old gran couldn’t attend every gig, especially after she got banned from the Woolwich Tramshed for injuring two bouncers (she took exception when they told her to at least wait for us to start playing before she hurled ice cubes and abuse at the stage). After the court served gran her restraining order, I remember telling her, “You think those songs were bad. You should hear the ones we don’t play.

Whether it’s songs or stories, I believe one of the lesser-known skills a writer needs to acquire, is the ability to tell when it’s all going horribly wrong. Many writers find it hard to accept that much of what they create is simply not good enough. In the case of fiction, I’m not talking about prose or even literary style. I mean character development, sub-plotting, even the overall story idea.

How many times have you read bland books in your preferred genre? The blurbs looked great, they were your kind of stories and you were excited to read them. They weren’t badly written or anything, but still they left you with that ‘meh’ feeling.

Sure, someone thought they would sell, and they may even have done so (if the writers were already established and/or had a big marketing organization behind them). I’m sure those books didn’t start out that way, but somewhere between the idea and the finished product, things went off track.

If you read a bland book, are you more likely to read something else by that writer? Probably not.

I know some people feel they should try to finish and publish everything they write, if for no other reason than to get their name out there, but I disagree. To me, recognizing when (and why) it’s time to give up on a story is at least as important as recognizing when (and why) it works. It’s perhaps the main reason I use outlines, because if the big picture isn’t going to turn out okay, I’d rather find out before I spend months working on the first draft.

How about you?

Do you try to finish every piece of fiction you write?



Poll #1818957 Do you try to finish every piece of fiction you write?

Do you try to finish every piece of fiction you write?

I finish every story I start work on
1(2.4%)
I finish more than 75% of the stories I start work on
16(39.0%)
I finish 50-75% of the stories I start work on
9(22.0%)
I finish 25-50% of the stories I start work on
7(17.1%)
I finish less than 25% of the stories I start work on
6(14.6%)
Something else, which I’ll explain in the comments
2(4.9%)


*In deference to the old adage 'Give the public what they want.' Gentleman Jones disbanded in 2004. The band's website has gone, but if you'd like to hear their theme tune, you can find it here.


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Comments

( 26 comments — Leave a comment )
ex_naomi_ja
Feb. 14th, 2012 04:16 pm (UTC)
I'd estimate I finish 75% or more of everything I start. I have one or two unfinished projects languishing on my laptop, but I usually end up cannibalising them for other projects eventually.
jongibbs
Feb. 14th, 2012 04:30 pm (UTC)
That's a great point about cannibalising bits from other projects. I've been known to do that my own self :)
tracy_d74
Feb. 14th, 2012 05:19 pm (UTC)
Well, I just started finishing stories within the past three years. Within the past three years...half of the six stories I started I finished. BUT only one was submitted. Four will be trunked forever (more than likely) and one will be resurrected when I become a better writer (hopefully). The story I'm writing now...well...I'm on the fence about it. In its current state it may be destined for the trunk. I can't seem to make it match what is in my head. It may be I don't have the skills at the moment. So...it may be temporarily trunked after I complete the first draft.

But I know what you mean about established authors with bland books. I think you get on a contract and you HAVE to produce something. Unfortunately, life has ups and downs and that can impact your writing. If it is an author that I KNOW produces great stuff and has an off book, I am forgiving. If it keeps happening...well...obviously I will stop purchasing their stories.
jongibbs
Feb. 14th, 2012 05:45 pm (UTC)
'In its current state it may be destined for the trunk'

I know what you mean. At present I have first drafts of three fantasy novels which may never see the light of day :)
ladysaotome
Feb. 14th, 2012 05:39 pm (UTC)
I don't actually start "writing" the story unless I've got a pretty good idea where it's going - or on the rare, special occasions where an idea just possesses me and I cannot focus on anything else until I get it all written down. But I've got a thick file of scribbled ideas and vague outlines. Plots that I hope to get back to someday and flesh out in more detail - which may or may not ever happen.
jongibbs
Feb. 14th, 2012 05:46 pm (UTC)
'I've got a thick file of scribbled ideas and vague outlines.

Me too :)
black_faery
Feb. 14th, 2012 06:13 pm (UTC)
I try to finish every story...whether that's what happens or not is another matter entirely! ;-)
jongibbs
Feb. 14th, 2012 06:22 pm (UTC)
Lol :)
mutive
Feb. 14th, 2012 06:41 pm (UTC)
I'd guess I'm at about a 50% kill rate.

Sometimes the stories are just ghastly, and I could try to salvage them, or write something new. Generally, if it's not working, there's a reason, and it's pretty easy to kill something. (And a lot of the time, on edits, the story changes so radically it's barely the same story, anyway.)
jongibbs
Feb. 14th, 2012 07:13 pm (UTC)
'a lot of the time, on edits, the story changes so radically it's barely the same story, anyway.'

True dat :)
peadarog
Feb. 14th, 2012 09:35 pm (UTC)
Definitely not worth submitting something that isn't amazing -- in your own head, at least :)
jongibbs
Feb. 14th, 2012 10:27 pm (UTC)
Lol :)
bogwitch64
Feb. 14th, 2012 11:25 pm (UTC)
I know when to give something up. If it's not there, it's not. The notion of working on it until it's "fixed" often leads to large bumps on the head, and a bruised nose--from banging one's head against a brick wall.

I gave up a series of 18 books, and two stand alone books that took about ten years of my writing life to write. There were two more books in that ten year span that I might go back to one day, because there are many good things and only a few "new writer" embarrassments within. But I'm no giver-upper! I was certain Beyond the Gate was worth fixing, and I'm working hard to accomplish that.

Like you said, it's all about knowing what's worth the effort, and what just isn't. Great stuff, Jon!
jongibbs
Feb. 15th, 2012 10:17 am (UTC)
'But I'm no giver-upper!'

Indeed not :)
karen_w_newton
Feb. 14th, 2012 11:59 pm (UTC)
So long as "finish" is not defined as "sell" I have a pretty good completion rate.
jongibbs
Feb. 15th, 2012 10:18 am (UTC)
Lol :)
(Deleted comment)
jongibbs
Feb. 15th, 2012 10:21 am (UTC)
That's one thing I learned from my music days. Just because something's in tune, doesn't mean it's a great or even good. Most of our ideas never made it to the completed song stage, and a fair number of those never saw the light of day - and rightly so :)
bondo_ba
Feb. 15th, 2012 01:30 pm (UTC)
I finish every piece, every time. No excuses.

Sometimes, I finish them years after I started writing them.
jongibbs
Feb. 15th, 2012 03:02 pm (UTC)
'Sometimes, I finish them years after I started writing them.'

Fair point. I started on Barnum's Revenge (the sequel to Fur-Face) back in 2004. I'm only just finishing it :)
heleninwales
Feb. 15th, 2012 02:13 pm (UTC)
I ticked the 25-50% option, but that might be a little generous, especially if you look back at everything I ever started. However, in more recent years I try not to start a story if I don't know how it's going to end and have at least some idea of what will happen in the middle.

I also found that doing a couple of creative writing courses where the stories and poems and scripts had to be handed in for assessment concentrated the mind wonderfully and I discovered that it was possible to finish and even make decent something that at times seemed unpromising.
jongibbs
Feb. 15th, 2012 03:04 pm (UTC)
'...in more recent years I try not to start a story if I don't know how it's going to end and have at least some idea of what will happen in the middle.'

Same here, though I don't mind diving headfirst into the occasional piece of flash fiction :)
rowyn
Feb. 16th, 2012 08:26 pm (UTC)
Gosh, that's a lot of people who finish what they start! I am pretty sure I am under 10% for completed vs started, but apparently I'm an outlier. :)
jongibbs
Feb. 16th, 2012 09:14 pm (UTC)
You and me both :)
blood_of_winter
Feb. 17th, 2012 02:23 pm (UTC)
A little late to the party but...

I used to finish about 50% when I first started writing seriously, before I took a break. Since coming back to writing a couple of years later, I finish closer to 80-90%. I think part of it is due to the fact that I've grown as a writer so I can have more dedication to what Im doing but also, now it seems I have a better "vision" of pieces before I start.
eneit
Feb. 19th, 2012 07:19 am (UTC)
late to this converation, had an interesting ocuple of weeks with the boys that kind of drained me. I do finish more than 75% of what I start work on, mostly because if it's gong to go wrong, it goes horridly wrong before I get too far through the research/world building stage so I often don't start actually writing it. If a tale is good enough to keep me needing to tell it all through the research stage, odds are good that only life intrusions will keep me from finishing it.
( 26 comments — Leave a comment )

Things What I Wrote and Other Stuff

No longer in print but there are still some copies floating around out there


No longer in print but there are still some copies floating around out there















 











THE MEAGER PUDDLE OF LIMELIGHT AWARDS


Books by my writer friends - compressed

NJ Writing groups - compressed

NJ writing conference - compressed

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