Writer, Finish What You Start!

New Year’s Prep: Post 7

Shaunta Grimes
Dec 23, 2018 · 4 min read
Photo by Al x on Unsplash

Overly-simplified fact of any writer’s life:

You can’t make a living as a writer if you don’t actually finish writing stuff.

Repeat after me: No one will ever pay you for a good start. It just won’t happen. If you want to be a working, paid writer, you have to finish what you start.

A finished manuscript, whether that’s a novel or a blog post or a social media post for a client, is pretty much the only hard MUST. We all know of writers who make boatloads of money off of poorly written crap — but all of those writers finished writing the thing.

If you have a plan to be a writer who gets paid for writing, in any form, you have to finish. Nothing else matters until you get that part down.

Got that?


Here’s what I do that helps me to get some writing finished every year.

Make a list of all possible projects, in every stage of completion.

I won’t lie. I don’t finish everything I start. There are some books on this list that have been on this list with a partial word-count notation for years. I just keep writing it down. Someday I’ll finish.

Until I do, that project will never do anything but live a half-life on my hard drive.

I also have new ideas that have popped up over the last year that I haven’t done anything with. Just raw ideas that are nothing more than a sentence or two.

And there is pretty much everything in between.

In addition to books, I list ideas for blog posts, series for Ninja Writers, short story ideas. It all gets put onto my master list for the new year. I do usually divide by type, but otherwise this is just a brain dump.

Organize the list.

I start by developing any brand new ideas with a process that, because I’ve done it so many times, I can finish in about 20 minutes. I call it H2DSI because I created a free class for Ninja Writers called How to Develop (and test) a Story Idea. You can sign up for that here, if you’re interested. It’s free.

That way I start the new year with at least some idea of where every single idea I have could go, and I feel good about whether or not the idea will hold up an entire novel.

I think about my current situation and which stories it makes the most sense to focus on. For instance, I have a contract right now for two books. I’ll turn in the first draft of the second book in a couple of weeks, just as the new year starts. So my current situation is that I want to finish writing something that my agent can try to sell and I want to have something ready if/when my current editor asks what else I have.

That could be the same book. Maybe some years it would be. But because I have a mostly finished young adult book that I that I think the market will appreciate and my current editor will expect a middle grade book for me, I’ll start the new year with at two projects at the top of my list.

Be ready to hit the ground running.

For book-length fiction projects, I use physical plot boards. Today I’ll make sure I have my boards set up for both of my two first projects of 2019.

I also make a schedule for myself for other types of writing. For me that means blogging and Ninja Writers. In the spring I’ll be writing a new course for Ninja Writers, for instance, so I need to make sure I have that planned as much as I can now, to give myself the best chance of finishing. I’ll also make an editorial calendar for blogging in 2019.

That’s my plan for today. How will you prepare for actually finishing your writing projects in 2019?

Here’s my secret weapon for sticking with whatever your thing is.

Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She lives in Reno with her husband, three superstar kids, and a yellow rescue dog named Maybelline Scout. She’s on Twitter @shauntagrimes and is the author of Viral Nation and Rebel Nation and the upcoming novel The Astonishing Maybe. She is the original Ninja Writer.

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