Can’t Finish Your Project? 6 Questions to Help You Work Out Why


Image: Kelli Tungay

We all have projects that grind to a halt and leave us staring at the unfinished draft (aka a big, hot mess) wondering now what? Or worse still we limp on in circles and start to get resentful. We’ve invested all this time and energy – and it’s still not finished!  We start to see our once beloved story as a chore.

But go easy friend, there are ways to work out why you’re stuck – AND what to do about it.  Now it might be time to jettison this project and start over but before you take that drastic step let’s investigate further.

There’s going to be a reason you’re struggling with this particular story and these 6 questions might just help you work out what it is and get you back on track.

Q1: Do you know how your story ends?

Are you stuck because you don’t know how to end your story?  Or are you stuck because you have an ending that you’re dubious about or feel uninspired by? Writers will always have some doubt about their work – but ignore those nagging critics and be honest with yourself – does your ending feel good to you?   No matter what the issue is with your ending – it’s so much easier to get to a destination when you know where you’re heading.

Solution:  Embark on some good old-fashioned brainstorming and explore possible endings.  Try mind-mapping or coming up with the lamest endings you can think of – just to reboot your thinking.  One of my favourite brainstorming exercises is to write the question that’s bugging you in the middle of a piece of paper, then set a timer for 10 minutes – and keep answering that question until the time is up.  Some of your answers will be nonsense but that doesn’t matter – the goal of this exercise is to keep writing.  It will stimulate new ideas – and very likely give you insights into the ending you need.

Q2: What Was Your Original Vision For This Story?

Maybe you’ve fallen out of love. Think back to when you first started this story. Think about all the things that you loved about it.  Remember why you started writing it in the first place.  What’s changed?  Has the current version gone off on a detour that has led to a dead end?   If so why and when?  Which elements are you still in love with?  Which elements can be recycled – which can be trashed?

Solution: Take a step back and reassess.  What was and IS your vision for this story? (And I mean YOUR vision for it – not what you think it should be.) Now go back and work out which elements in your story don’t serve that vision.  Then re-state your intent for this story.

Q3: Is This The Type of Story You Enjoy?

If it isn’t then no wonder you’re finding it hard to write.  Yes, you’re ultimately writing for an audience – but right at the moment how about writing for you? How about you start writing the type of story you enjoy?

Solution: Find your way back into your story by spending some time reading the type of work you want to write.  (And this goes for screenwriters too.) It’ll re-invigorate your imagination and you’ll start seeing new possibilities for the existing work.

Image: Annie Spratt

Q4: Are You Giving Yourself Enough Time?

It’s easy to sit staring in frustration at that unfinished chapter or poem or scene and declare it hopeless.  But remember this – writing isn’t for the faint-hearted. It requires some intestinal fortitude and commitment.  There are many seemingly valid reasons to do something else instead of write but none of them will help you finish your work. And the more you procrastinate and avoid – the harder it will be to get that story momentum going again.

Solution:  Get serious about committing some time to your project. Seriously! Carve out a regular appointment to write and stick to it.  Whether it’s 15 mins a day or two hours a week – it doesn’t matter.  Regularity + commitment + discipline = productive writing habit. And it doesn’t matter if you use this time to play or brainstorm – just forcing yourself to start is surprisingly effective.

Q5: What Are You Telling Yourself About You As a Writer?

Sometimes we tell ourselves things about ourselves that just aren’t true. Labouring under self-limiting beliefs can slow anyone down.  So identify the main criticisms you’re leveling at your writer self – and ask yourself this – are those criticisms opinion or fact?   If they’re fact then you’ve got something to work on.  But if they’re opinion then you can probably let them go.  It’s only an opinion based on not very much actual evidence.

Solution: Write down the four attributes you have as a writer.  Then write down the four attributes you think a writer needs to finish their project.  Which of these attributes do you already have?  And if there are some you don’t have – how can you develop them?

Q6: Do You Need Some Feedback?

Sometimes talking out a story problem or just talking about your project generally gives you a way back into it.  Not to mention renewed enthusiasm for it.  There are plenty of ways to get feedback – you can go down the professional route, you can get involved in a writers’ group or online forum.  And if you need to connect with other writers for support and inspiration – it’s hard to go past a writing workshop – check out my Writing Room for example!  And I also have the BIG Mid-Spring Write-In coming up.

Solution:  Think about what type of feedback will best serve your project at the moment. Do you need an intensive critique or friendly encouragement in a group?  Do you need to discuss a specific part of your story?  Work this out and go find the place, people or situation that will give you what you need.

Happy trails folks…

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