Before you begin a short story, an article, a book (or whatever the case might be), you may have a general idea how long your work will be, but you can never be sure. Stories can take on a life of their own. The idea that was meant to be a short story may become a novella; the novella may blow out into a book. You just never know.
Compounding the issue is how haphazardly we may work. Two hours on a weekend, thirty minutes on Monday because we were late putting the kids to bed, nothing on Tuesday because somebody dropped in, Wednesday we just don’t feel like it, fifteen minutes on Thursday … and where are we again? Although regular readers to this blog will appreciate how stringently we impress the need for routine, for some, that may be difficult, and once inertia sets in, it may become impossible.
So we’re writing this thing and we have no idea how long it’ll be, and we’re writing it in fits and spurts, often needing to waste time reacquainting ourselves with material once we’ve spent too long from it. Before we know it, though, those gaps between writing grow increasingly distant, and it seems too much of a bother to return to it at all.
The problem is where’s the imperative to finish? Other things in our life have consequences if we don’t see them through: we need to get to our jobs and do our work or we’re fired; kids need to be fed or they starve; the house needs to be taken care of or it becomes a sty, but if we don’t finish writing our story? Big deal. The world won’t end. Life will go on. There’s always tomorrow.
Next thing we know it’s five years later and we’re still plodding along on that novel we wanted to write.
How many of you can identify with this scenario?
What we need to do is impose deadlines on ourselves – deadlines that’ll motivate us to write every day and ensure we finish what we’ve started.
The easiest way to do this is to scour the submission calls. If you’re a member of your state’s Writers Centre, they will include opportunities for submissions and competitions in their regular media. If you can’t afford to join your state’s Writers Centre, you can sign up for the Queensland Writers Centre weekly e-newsletter, which is free of charge. A useful link very much worth bookmarking also is the Australian Writers’ Resource competition page. This lists all the competitions running this year and into next year.
Submission and competition opportunities will come with their own requirements – themes and/or genres, word counts, and deadlines. See which opportunity fits what you’re writing, and strive for that deadline. Keep a spreadsheet of where you want to submit, when the deadline is, and – if they advertise it (not all do) – when they announce their acceptances or winners. Regiment this part of your life exactly as you would any other. Writing is no longer amorphous. You have something real to aim for – a time you want your work finished, a maximum word count to write to, and a place to submit the finished piece.
Doing this has a domino effect. It gets you into the practice of aiming to finish something by a set time; in achieving that you have to set daily limits you need to meet (e.g. writing half an hour a day); and it gets you in the habit of submitting.
And, best of all, you might be published or win a competition, too.