Finishing things: traditionally, this is not one of my strengths. Before I had the opportunity to write for a living, I had the luxury of starting and re-starting and erasing and starting something new.
What I realize now is that my avoidance of completing stories reflected a deeply-rooted fear: what if I finally finish something and it’s not any good? When someone hears that I’m a writer, and they ask, “What do you write?”, it’s so much easier to say, “I’m working on a book,” than it is to say, “Here – this is what I’ve written. For now, under the circumstances, this is the best that I could do.”
It is difficult to have completed works floating around out there that I’m not entirely satisfied with, but I’ve learned that for me, this is the price of improvement. Have you ever read one of Steinbeck’s first books, “The Pastures of Heaven”? It’s a wonderful collection of stories, but it’s no “East of Eden” (written 20 years later).
Too often I want to be judged as a writer based on my intentions, on what I’m trying to accomplish, and not on the effectiveness of the finished product. But what I’m beginning to learn by studying others is that good writers, very good writers, finish things and then move on so that they can finish better things, and so on, and so on.
It is difficult to learn lessons from incomplete work. That’s like trying to decipher what kind of a fisherman you are solely based on your casting method. Cast your line. Reel it in. Cast again. Catch a fish.
Finish something, if only so that you can wring all the lessons from it that you can. Then, next time around, finish something even better.