How To Finish
I write for a living. I also build websites and I market them but I do that to house the content I write. People like the way I do that part of the job so they often hire me to do it for them as well, but fundamentally I am a writer. It’s what I do. It’s also the hardest part of my job as every day I have to finish pieces of work and send them out into the world. Every day I look at my job sheet and think ‘How do I finish that?’
Most of us sit down to write with a topic in mind or on the job sheet, but that is the easy part. The big question is what to write about that topic, sitting there like a ripe plum waiting to be picked.
We set about creating the perfect writing environment but I would argue that it doesn’t exist. We use all kinds of tricks to persuade ourselves that we are ‘getting in the zone’, ‘opening the path for the muse’, call it what you will. In reality what we are doing is focusing, gradually shutting out the distractions that prevent us from putting that first precious word onto paper. We tell ourselves that if the environment isn’t right we have no chance of starting, let alone finishing, anything worthwhile.
Some say Writing is a Craft, others say it is an Art, joining that age old debate about what is Art and what is Craft. For me it is simple. Craft is the skill of doing something, the mechanics. Art is the inspiration that makes the things we craft unique and beautiful. The dividing line is fine, so fine as to be almost invisible in my world. There are very few real Craftsmen who are not Artists and vice versa.
So having accepted writing is both an Art and a Craft, we are still left with the problem of where to start. Eventually the moment comes when it can no longer be avoided. The words must spill forth – but what should they be. Do they come from the Art side – inspiration, or the Craft of putting words on paper. The education system I grew up with says that if you want to consider yourself a writer inspiration must always strike but I don’t believe that is true. Many a time the ideas do not come when I sit down, faced by a blank sheet of paper so I have become adept at capturing ideas in my trusty Moleskine notebook that accompanies me everywhere. Sheet of paper in front of me, I open the notebook and almost always nothing written in there inspires me, and almost never coincides with the items on the job sheet! The moment for that idea has passed and not yet returned – sometimes I don’t even have a clue what I was thinking about to inspire that thought.
This is where the craftsman takes over. Neil Gaiman is absolutely right when he says that you must ‘just do it’. I’m a great believer in the free writing technique. My pencil hits the page and I write down whatever is in my head, usually nothing of any value – in fact many a time the page starts with ‘I have no idea what I am going to write about because my brain has gone away today’. But I keep going and fairly quickly the Artist joins the Craftsman and words with purpose start to flow, though my English teachers would have a hissy fit at the lack of grammar and general construction of the piece, not being believers in drafting and editing. Before I know it pages are filling and I don’t stop until the time for writing is over or I run out of words, though that almost never happens.
Having started it becomes easy, the first scribblings may not fit with the job sheet but they always fit somewhere, even though the train of thought rarely ends up where I thought it would. Most important is that the barriers are broken, tackling the items on the list is easy now and soon, I have finished.
Finishing is a learned skill, it doesn’t come naturally to us. It is a skill we learn by starting because if you don’t start you cannot finish. If you don’t ‘just do it’, you won’t finish, and that is what we are aiming for with so many things in life – to finish, to complete something, to achieve our dreams.
Just do it, start.