Thursday, July 23, 2009


It seems to me that most people can be divided into two groups; starters and finishers. Yes, I’m aware there is another category often termed the “do nothings,” but I’m not going there today. I’m talking about busy people, people who see tasks to perform, people who set out to do things, people who are not adverse to hard work.

My husband is a starter. There are so many things he sees that need doing. He draws plans on graph paper, he makes dozens of trips to Home Depot and Lowes, he reads the online specs on appliances and tools, he sends for patterns, he buys lumber, screws, nails, tools, switch covers, paint, seeds, etc. The problem is there’s still a wall and half to be finished in the basement, one basement room lacks a ceiling, there’s a hole where a bench should be on our deck, wall chips have been spackled but not painted, the fence has been pressure washed, but the painting is only half complete, two barrels meant to hold strawberry plants sit empty. He buys a few items at a time for a project then makes many trips to purchase the other items as he needs them. It’s not that he doesn’t work hard or set great goals. He just has too many projects going at once and he starts new projects before the current one is finished.

I’m a finisher. If I start a project, I want it finished before I tackle the next one. I have a hard time setting down a book I’m reading and I read only one book at a time. I wipe down cupboards and sweep the floor before I consider the dishes done. I hate being interrupted when I’m writing, weeding my garden, or even doing a Sudoku puzzle. Whatever task I set for myself, I want to finish it before I start something else. I make detailed shopping lists and check off each item on the list as I shop, so I won’t have to go back to the store. Unfinished projects annoy me until I get them finished. My problem is getting started. I put off projects until a better time. I plan to begin when I have a large block of time, or when the weather is better. I can’t write until the bed is made, dishes done, and the floor is clean. I find excuses not to begin.

My husband and I probably accomplish more together than we would separately because he pushes me to begin projects I’ve put off and I nag him to finish ones he’s started. We’re neither one entirely successful, but together we do manage to get a lot done.

I’ve been writing most of my life and I’ve met many writers. As I’ve talked with them, I find writers also fall into these categories. There are those who plan to write a book someday, but who never actually start. And there are those who start one manuscript after another, but never finish one and see it through to publication. Then there are those who have to force themselves to get that first chapter down on paper, then stick with it until they reach that satisfying moment when they can say, “It’s done and sent off to a would-be publisher.” The last category, a combination of finisher and starter, has the most success.

People frequently ask me where I get my ideas and my writer friends tell me they also hear that question a lot. For me, ideas aren’t hard to find; almost any chance conversation, news story, conversation, or something I see will start the ideas flowing. Sitting down and actually putting those first words on paper are the hard part. For others, starting comes as easily as ideas pop into their heads, but they get another idea and start another story, then another and finishing becomes the problem.

This is where anyone who is serious about becoming a published author needs to take stock; ask yourself whether you’re a starter or a finisher. Once you’ve determined this, it’s time to find a strategy for overcoming your weakness and capitalizing on your strength. Even if a finisher spends all day staring at a blank screen, it is a beginning. Starters need to jot down those brilliant ideas for another book and stick them in a drawerto be written later. The solution may be as simple as joining a support or critique group and using the other members to keep you on task. Some writers function best by setting goals such as start on such and such a day and time, write two hours, two pages, or whatever each day, or select a designated nagger such as a spouse or editor to report to on a regular basis. If you’re a starter you must find a way to finish or your efforts are in vain. If you’re a strong finisher, then discipline yourself to begin.

The important thing to remember is books that are never started remain idle dreams. Books never finished don’t get published.


Gale Sears said...

Very good advise, Jennie. I've always been amazed at the amount of work you accomplish. I think I'm a starter and a just takes me a long time to cross the finish line.

Cheri J. Crane said...

I agree with Gale, I think I'm both. I usually finish what I start, but there are other projects that I begin, but never have enough time to finish. Good thing we have all of eternity to fully develop some talents. Like someday I'm going to paint incredible landscapes. Trust me.