Finish What You Started

by Michele Callaghan, Manuscript Editing

I know that many of you are, like me, once or current aspiring writers. Through my blogs, I have pontificated on the correct way to handle all sorts of parts of speech and random bits of punctuation. But now I want to focus on the writing process itself and on two pieces of advice others gave me that have changed my approach to writing.

The first is one of things that we all know but don’t always do: simply finish something. I met a filmmaker when I was in college and asked what he would tell people wanting to succeed in creative endeavors. He told me a story about the smartest and most talented person he knew, who never finished anything. I understood what he meant. If you don’t finish anything, no matter your skills or what you have to say, you cannot succeed. I wish I could tell you that I completed every novel or play I began. I didn’t. But I have learned to write small pieces and to feel proud of finishing them. Blog, anyone? And, you never know. I may finally finish my “magnum opus” yet.

The second was less intuitive and equally important for us free spirits: if you are not going to follow the rules, know why you are doing so. I went to graduate school with the poet Ron Block. At that time, I fancied myself an “experimental” writer. Longtime readers will recall that I was going to be the next James Joyce (see above; Joyce actually wrote entire books and may have a few more things going for him than yours truly). To effect this, I wrote a lot of stream of consciousness poetry and stories with no verbs, some good, some bad. Ron took a look at my poetry and pointed out that, if you are using lowercase letters and nonstandard punctuation, think it through and have a reason for flouting the rules. That resonated with me, and I drastically changed my style to the extent that I now can no longer relate to much of the material I wrote years ago.

So, dear readers, keep writing—just follow the rules (unless you have a good reason not to) and finish something that makes you proud. And when you reach a stage in which you feel confident in your abilities, pay it forward and pass these ideas on to the next bunch of future writers.