Do you have issues with deadlines? Does your writing routine look more like a writing occasion? Light a fire beneath your writing by imagining your unfinished books set ablaze — this is what incomplete books look like… slowly fading away in the flames. Defeating writer’s block is a test of mind over matter. After publishing my first independent book and now that I’m about 5,000 words into the second book of the series, I have decided to share some serious rules for finishing books.
No time to waste—
Identifying Your Favorite Books, Authors & Writing Styles
I find it difficult to read some books, but when I do find one that is really worth reading, I’m usually quite taken. It was always the most random books like The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck that would keep me up at night back in the day. I remember being in high school, finishing her book, and getting into a physical altercation with it in Spanish class, when I read the last page and threw it on the ground.
The ending really pissed me off, but not because it was disappointing. Simply because it was supposed to anger you, and I felt it.
I started to learn that there were certain aspects about my favorite authors’ writing that enchanted me. The fact that I can still cringe at Dolores Umbridge’s words “I must not tell lies” or want to punch Malfoy in the face just to defend HP til the end in such a serious way really moves me.
The hilarious way Jonathan Swift can sum up the bipartisan system as something to be laughed at way back in the 1700s is why I’m in love with the man — nothing like arguing which end eggs must be cracked. America — read! This provides me with the entertainment and comic relief needed to endure everyday life, but the truth of the matter is, it’s really not so funny when you think about it. Admit, though, it does get you thinking.
At the same time, I was so repelled by certain writers, that I couldn’t even finish them.
Stop Reading Crap
I shield myself from bad writing. This has both pros and cons, but it’s the main reason I don’t read much for a writer, which really sounds stupid to some. One thing that has always come naturally to me is the ability to distinguish good writing from crap — almost immediately, bullshit is rejected by something like my intuition guiding me.
Great writing is more than avoiding forced language and obvious biases. It’s more than just correct grammar and spelling, which I find much more trivial (more a test of memory not intellect; and for this reason I side with Joyce) than the style or conviction used to convey a point. But most importantly, the overall idea of what is being said must resonate, lest the deed of just flipping the page grows more tiring each flipping time.
It’s not that I find other authors inferior, or myself superior in any way, but I’m certainly not trying to mimic (even if accidentally) any crap they may have thought or said. I see myself as becoming jaded by such writing (like how I feel after touching a corrupt Xbox remote growing up full Nintendo kid — it just feels icky). So, I simply don’t read it. Sometimes I feel bad, since the writing might not necessarily be crap but the style of exposition is too “off” for my taste to get through it.
Stephen King is a good example of this and his stories make some of my favorite movies (It, The Green Mile & The Shining), but I have never been able to read his actual books, no matter how hard I try. My mother loves Stephen King, but the narrative is just not my style. I still haven’t given up on him completely (because his stories are great in all), but I don’t have the time to try. It’s interesting to think he would certainly disagree with me on this.
There are seriously billions of books out there — no time to waste on writing you cannot enjoy.
Realize the Greatest Story of All Time has Yet to been Written
I’ve wanted to write (and attempted to finish) fiction since I can remember. But, I honestly accepted about five years ago and six chapters in that I needed to work on it. It was too good a story to waste on my underdeveloped writing skills, because I wanted so much more for it and the rest of the stories I managed to conjure up through the years. I wanted it to be considered classic in style without trying too hard, and I suspected this would entail “formal training”. The back of my mind has always resisted the idea — the forced reading curriculums, intellectuals that think they know it all (but know less by knowing more about one subject while remaining deficient in the rest), and the dreaded “peer reviewed” sounds like drowning. If only we could learn in a less “narrowed” fashion — less like a religion. I want the big picture… give me math, give me science, give me history, give me writing!
I didn’t take calculus in college for nothing, but apparently I did because connecting everything together in an academic environment is not kosher. Too ancient Greeky. The old ways of philosophizing have died. But given the context, I will eventually delve into Classics.
Stargazing and my experience growing up with science and astronomy (using a 40 foot radio telescope in Greenbank, WV for my science fair project in high school and starting college with my sights set on Aerospace Engineering) taught me that there are some ancient ideas about the cosmos that absolutely and rightfully should be revived, because they are useful when attempting to understand modern physics and even psychology with a less empirical, more theoretical perspective — turns out absolute empiricism is also not my thing.
No, my biggest motivator as a writer has always been the fact that no matter how many great books I’ve read, I still have yet to read the “greatest story of all time”. Realizing my goal is a completely subjective endeavor, this is exactly what I have set out to accomplish — no matter what it takes.
Sure, there are plenty of great books I couldn’t live without and plenty of authors who inspire me in various ways, but no matter which book it is, I’ve always found something lacking — the narration, the dialogue, the integrity of the main character, the length of the book and how long it takes to tell the story, the unfolding of the exposition, the character development, or the one thing that I find lacking in most great stories, the end.
Why not too short, but not too long?
Why not just enough indulgence to know the characters, but a great plot to move the story along?
To this day, I have yet to read the greatest story of all time. Seamless, inspired, and as if the book’s existence has touched the very fabric of my being so that I’m made better just by knowing it without a single complaint, beginning to end. It’s selfish to think such a book could exist, and perhaps the definition only applies to my own tastes. Yet, this is what I imagine hearing the Odyssey spoken by the poet Homer in the original Greek (totally from memory) must have felt like when witnessed.
Like the brilliance of a Star, it must have been a source of inspiration to last a lifetime.
My goal as a writer has always been to write the greatest story of all time, but even so, I sometimes doubt my ability to match the “perfect story” to the “perfect ending”. For this reason, I’m cautious about the authors I read but in love with the books I care to finish.
It’s a tragedy, I suspect — I do prefer a good tragedy.
Once you realize that there are only a limited number of years, days, minutes, and hours to life, it becomes much easier to work out a writing routine. People are waaaaaaaay too inhibited for my liking when it comes to this one GLARING fact of life — you die… POOF!
Let’s face it — even if there is a such thing as the afterlife, there’s probably not much of a chance it’s going to be a continuation of you, your life, or what’s happening right now in this very moment. How many moments of your life do you forget looking back? Consider it a bonus to find out that the afterlife exists, but until then, accepting the undefined and limited number of moments you have left is the biggest motivator in helping you accomplish something right here and now.
Like, right meow.
The Best Main Character is Oh-So Very Flawed
News Flash — flaws are what make people more likeable. But not to the point that there is no possible way you can like them. This extreme can be seen in the Game of Thrones characters who die and no one ever really cares about this fact due to the inhumane quality of their existence making it difficult for the average human to honestly relate. It’s called “shock factor”, and sells like sex — completely lacking in intellect.
The best main character is always flawed, but it’s usually their “humanity” that gets them into trouble. Things like love, duty, moral paradoxes, and subjective opinions about good and evil result in unforeseen mistakes along the path of life. Human qualities are what allow people to relate to the main character. The “perfect” main character is one that makes mistakes and cares enough to learn something from them. They may be admirable for the traits that help them overcome their struggles, but people ultimately are drawn to the fact that like every normal human does, the best main character tends to wander astray.
Authors are the Counter Culture — It Is Thy Duty!
As much as art and theater are the creation of culture, writing has always served the purpose of acting as the “counter culture”. When I read Uncle Tom’s Cabin way back in grade school, I immediately understood how history is made via writing. Just as the teachers would say, the evils of slavery were revealed through the story. People suddenly could not turn a blind eye to such cruelty because it was experienced firsthand through the act of reading — and, seeing the truth, they were sickened by it.
I bet you didn’t realize Dr. Seuss was a badass political cartoonist and anti-Nazi activist when you read Wacky Wednesday and O’ The Places You’ll Go as bedtime stories, but the best authors automatically accept the total weight of their duty as writers (Ok, so maybe he got a little carried away with the Japanese, but maybe it’s the thought, and otherwise, dedication to fighting racism that counts?).
Regardless, it’s a writer’s duty to communicate what needs to be said and that in which may be difficult for those who need to hear it most to receive, so it must be done in the most eloquent manner. Without this role, history unfolds the same lessons over and over with even more drastic consequences. It is no coincidence that “freedom of the press” or the free expression, publication, and sharing of ideas is one pivotal aspect of a healthy democratic society.
Now, who owns the press these days?
Inspiring with the Soul of a Story
A book is more than just words on paper, but a sacred human thing. All books contain a soul. The soul of a book is the spirit of the thing in which it represents. It may be the product of an author and take on qualities of the author, time, or place, but a book is its own separate thing that contains its own effects.
Some stories have souls that allow them to live for thousands of years.
Some stories have souls that hold the power to change minds and touch peoples’ lives.
Some stories have souls that manifest new eras of human civilization through communication and understanding.
Some stories have souls that lie at the very heart of human experience — animating the reader to act in time on those ideas that inspire progress for the sake of future humanity.
The soul of a story is made of the abstracts that literally transform into concretes on the surface reality.