A Voice on Finishing What You’ve Started

Have you ever had that moment?

That moment when you finish your novel and a dark creeping dread taps you on the shoulder?


image via flickr creative commons by Jordan Francisco

And all the joy evaporates…

I have.  Almost every single time.  The drafting and writing is done.  This should be a happy time – this should be a happy dance time.


But, no.

There is a black shadow in the room.  I can’t really make out what it is.  Then, I hear the voices, again.

Voice:  You gonna leave it like that?

Me:  *looks over shoulder* Who are you?  A supernatural force?  A ghost?

Voice:  I’m the ghost of a crappy book, maybe.  Seriously, I can’t believe that you’re gonna let your book loose on the world.

Me:  I’ve finished the story.  All the plot points tie together, the characters work out and I like the twist in the last few chapters.

Voice:  It sucks.

Me: Excuse me?

Voice:  The whole thing sucks.  You have a fricken weather report in nearly every chapter.  No one cares what the clouds look like, or how bright the sun beats down on the tin roof of your double-wide, EVERY SINGLE MINUTE OF THE STORY.

Me:  The weather sets the tone.  It’s a metaphor for…

Voice: Booooriiiing.  Metaphor, smetaphor.  Just tell the damn story.

Me:  But the background of the story…

Voice:  Does the weather have anything to do with the storyline?

Me:  Well, no.  But…

Voice:  Cut it!  Using the delete key is not a sign of weakness.

Me:  But…

Voice:  And while you’re at it, cut that entire chapter at the shopping mall.  You center it around a character you never see again in the rest of the story.  Get rid of it.

Me:  Now wait a minute.  That chapter is great.  The description, the setting and the dialogue are flippin’ awesome.

Voice:  Yeah, you did some good work there.  Too bad it didn’t mount to diddly squat.  It does nothing to move the story forward.  The story doesn’t change if you cut it out.  It’s fluff.  Filler.  Compost.

Me:  Who are you to tell me to cut out that stuff?  It’s good stuff.

Voice:  I’m the Voice of Readers Past.  And if you want any chance of the Ghost of Readers Future paying you a visit, you’ll do as you’re told.  Cut the bejesus out of that thing.

Me:  That sounds like a threat.

Voice:  You’re very perceptive, for a writer.

Me:  OK, I will sacrifice my creative works for the good of the cause.  Happy?

Voice:  Hardly.  You do know that spellcheck is not the same thing as an edit, right?

Me:  I have an editor all lined up.

Voice:  Mercy on the soul of the poor editor who has to slog through this literary bog.  For her sake, I hope she has all her vaccinations up to date.   She wouldn’t want to catch anything from this semicolon infested, em dash riddled, Patient Zero of a manuscript.

Me:  Hey, that’s a bit harsh.  I can polish this up a bit more…

Voice:  You can’t polish a turd.  Do us all a favor, put this manuscript on the far back corner of a shelf and leave it there.  Put a label on the binder that says, “Unfit for Public Consumption – Unclean.”

Me:  You want me to give up on this?

Voice:  Think of it as a public service.  You know that this book is not perfect.

Me:  Perfect?  I never said it was perfect.  Nothing is perfect.

Voice:  Well, you got that part right.  Walk away and no one gets hurt.  Start something else…

Me:  No.

Voice:  Wait, what?

Me:  No.  I’m finishing this story and with another round or two of rewrites, it will stand on its own.  I will take out the weather reports, the fluff and filler and finish this project.

Voice:  What have you been smoking and where can I get some?

Me:  I’m done with you.  Go back into your dark little hidey hole.  I don’t need your negativity, fear of failure or drama.  I am finishing this manuscript.  I’ll do my very best with it and It will never be perfect.  There is no such thing.  But it will be finished.

Voice:  Oooooh, listen to you.  Someone’s growing a spine.

Me:  Yeah, and it’s about time.  I’m confident in what I’m writing and I know when it’s ready.  You don’t have a say in that anymore.  So go away, or I’ll go back on my meds and get rid of you for good!

Voice:  OK, OK, put the bottle down.  Gawd!  You writers are so sensitive.  I’ll go, for now.  I’ll be here waiting when you need some doubt and negative self-editing.

Me:  I finish what I start.

I’ve found that putting a piece of work aside for a bit of time does allow for a refreshed and objective look at the manuscript.  The goal is crossing the finish line with a completed, well-formed novel.  I’ve heard so many writers talk about polishing an striving for that “perfect novel.”  In a recent blog post, Kristen Lamb, said it best.  “The world doesn’t reward perfectionists; it rewards finishers.”

Image via Marie Loughin WANA Commons

Image via Marie Loughin WANA Commons

It’s so easy to drop something and move onto a new piece.  Finishing is hard work.  Stick to it and don’t let the black dog of negativity keep you from achieving your goals.  There will always be voices to criticize and challenge.  Your voice, is the one that matters – let it be heard.




  1. James, thank you for this post. When I’ve left comments in the past its usually about your humour (which I love in your writing). This time, it is to thank you for the exact message I needed to hear (with a twist of humour added in). My joy evaporated halfway through my revisions and I wasn’t able to force myself into my writing chair all last week. But you’re right. It’s time to grow a spine, banish that voice inside my head that is so afraid of failing, and finish. When I listen to my own voice (not the one from that “dark little hidey hole”) it serves me well, so time to bring that to my writing desk. BTW: Having read your first book and numerous blog posts, I have faith in your ability to produce a “well-formed novel”, so you go!

  2. stephanie710 · · Reply

    This was such a great post. What a great way to present what most of us are thinking the second we type: The End. The self-doubt sets in along with chopping, editing and full on freak outs. Thanks for making me laugh and also letting me know, I am not the only one who argues with other parts of my personality. Well done. 🙂

  3. […] None of this matters if we lose our creativity and motivation. Robbie Plair explains how stress assassinates creativity, while Cate Russell-Cole exposes red pen phobia. Janet Choi tells us how to harness the power of progress utilizing “The Done List,” and James L’Etoile pushes us to finish what we start. […]

  4. The black dog of negativity can go polish his own turds. Thanks, James.

  5. […] image via flickr creative commons by Jordan Francisco                                                                    A Voice on Finishing What You’ve Started […]

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