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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…

Show Me A Perfect Writer & I’ll Show You A Unicorn


When I speak with writers about what’s getting in the way of them finishing their projects I tend to hear the following reasons:

  • Lack of time
  • Lack of motivation
  • Lack of momentum

And then I hear … I’m worried that it’s not good enough – so I just keep fiddling with it.

Just so you know – the endless fiddling isn’t you improving your work, it’s fear thwarting your writing goal.   And you know I’m right…

Here’s the thing – if you’re waiting for your work to be perfect you’re going to be waiting for a very long time.   If you can’t share your work until it’s perfect you’re going to be waiting a very long time.  Sure, you’ll be safe from potential criticism and rejection but your work is never going to see the light of day.

And I don’t know many people who write for the audience in their bottom drawer.

So if perfectionism (aka cunningly desired fear) is getting in the way of your productive writing – here are some thoughts to consider.

  • Writing is a messy, imperfect process – so why do you expect your work to be perfect?
  • You’re going to get it wrong at some point – especially if you’re a new-ish writer. You’re going to get things wrong even if you’re not!
  • Getting critical feedback is invaluable to you as a writer and will help you improve your craft. You can’t get that if you don’t finish your work.
  • There’s no prize for being perfect.  Seriously – zero prizes!
  • Perfectionism is stopping you finishing because after you’ve finished the next step is invariably putting your work out into the world.  Never finishing means never having to show anyone your work = your work is NEVER seen.  And that’s sad.
  • Everybody wants their work to be amazing! Plenty of successful and talented writers struggle with getting their work bang on.  The difference is they don’t let that worry stop them finishing their project.  They finish, then they may go through the agonies of self-doubt and then they rewrite.
  • What’s worse?  Feelings of self-loathing because you never finish your story OR  someone (directly or indirectly) telling you your story needs more work?
  • What’s the worse thing that could happen if you get negative feedback?  And just so you know – everybody gets negative feedback at some point.  And getting it helps you build creative resilience.

Want some support to keep your project on track?  Check out my Writing Room page.

©Kathryn Burnett 2018 – For reprinting permission please get in touch via my contact page.






Writing Mojo AWOL? 8 Simple Ways to Stay Motivated

“People often say that motivation doesn’t last.  Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.”  Zig Ziglar

We all experience those crappy times when our writing mojo is AWOL and we start to think things like…”What’s the point of this writing lark?” or  “I’ve put in years of work – where’s the movement I’ve been promised for working so hard?” “When is IT going to happen?”

And worst of all (my personal favourite) – “am I just wasting my time?”

We have the desire and the ideas but things just aren’t going how we hoped or taking way, way too long.  How do you keep writing when it feels pointless or you just can’t be bothered?  I wish I could offer a magic bullet for this – but there ain’t one to offer.  There’s only one way to stay motivated and that’s to get your internal monologue in hand and take action you feel your mojo starting to flag.

Here are some simple things you can do to motivate yourself right back to that keyboard.

  1. Consciously spend some time with people who ARE motivated.  Let the energy and enthusiasm of other people who kick butt inspire you. Follow their lead.  Conversely, spend less time who are constantly negative about their own writing – negativity diminishes your energy and tends to reinforce any negative feelings you might have.  Not really helpful, right?
  2. Use your failures constructively.  Get the best from your setbacks by asking yourself this – what can I learn from this and how can I do better next time?  And then ask yourself – what’s the one positive that has come from this situation?  It might be a small positive but it’ll be there.
  3. Compare yourself to where you were 5 years ago.  And realise how far you’ve come and how much more you know now. As opposed to comparing yourself to others – which is waste of time. Take a couple of minutes to look back and focus on your successes. Close your eyes and let the memories of your biggest successes – no matter in what part of your life – remind you of what you’re capable of.
  4. Take 5 Minutes to think about why you want to write.  It’s easy to lose sight of why you’re doing this stuff.  Remind yourself of what your writing dream/goal is and why.  Then think about the one thing you can do straight away to move towards that dream.
  5. Park it!  If you’re not feeling the love for your current project – park it for a couple of weeks and indulge yourself in another creative pursuit like reading an author you like. Then come back to it.  It’s amazing how some distance gives you new eyes – and you might just find a renewed enthusiasm.
  6. Coffee!  Grab a coffee with a friendly writer and talk through your idea with them.  Ask them for a positive comment about it and encourage them to ask any questions.  You’ll find out what excites you about this project when you start talking about it.
  7. Step back and appraise your current project.  Write down two lists.  One list that notes all the positive aspects of your project while the other mentions all the negative.  You may be surprised how much you like about it.
  8. Reassess your writing goal – is it still right for you?  Is it still what you want?  If it isn’t  – then maybe it’s time to amend your goal.

Mojo flagging because of self-doubt?  Check out my article on fighting doubt.

Distracted rather than unmotivated?  Check out my advice on avoiding distractions.  

Make it a great day, peeps.

©Kathryn Burnett 2018