The Key to Finishing

After a long, hard slog, of over three years, I very recently finished a zeroth draft of my novel — with a work-in-progress title of Through the Dragon’s Teeth.

(It is fantasy set on the high seas — treacherous waters, blockade running, swash-and-buckle.)

And while I recognise that I’ve only completed a zeroth draft, and that I’ve still got a mountain range of work ahead of me before I truly am finished, surmounting this first peak was a huge achievement for me.

I originally conceived the story back in October 2012, abandoning my first two attempts before settling into this current iteration.

Short stories and other projects have distracted me, including a couple of bouts of ghostwriting, but I’ve always returned to this.

So why did it take so long to finish?

It wasn’t as if I wasn’t engaged with the story — the protagonist’s struggle still excites me, and the underlying theme resonates as strongly now as ever.

And it wasn’t as if I got stuck in the telling — I had outlined the entire story way back in 2013, and the basic plot markers haven’t changed that much.

Quite simply, it was, as always, a lack of confidence:

  • In my ability as a writer
  • In my talent as a storyteller
  • In the conviction that I can make others care as much about my protagonist as I do

This chestnut is old.

But it is one that has crippled my writing — or, more poignantly, my ability to finish the stories I begin — for many years. Decades, even.

And I don’t think I am alone. It happens, so I’m led to believe, to the best.

Why else would someone of J. K. Rowling’s talent and reputation release a new series under a secret pen name, if not to assuage some doubt in her ability to produce good writing without the hype?

But while, in the past, this doubt — this insidious pestilence — bound me up with so much anxiety, that I’d abandon writing altogether for months, sometimes years, nowadays I recognise this demon.

It will not defeat me again.

Because now I know how to beat it.

The secret (if secret, it can be called) is simply to keep plodding along.

There is an old Chinese adage which states that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

I’d like to expand upon this metaphor and add that the same journey can only be completed through a series of similar single steps.

Keep the goal in mind, but don’t focus on it. Concentrate only on where to place your next foot.

And one day, you’ll simply find you’ve arrived.

As I have now with Through the Dragon’s Teeth.

How have you defeated your own demons — writing or otherwise?

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