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Goal: To publish a blogpost 2 times/month (from once in 4 months)

Currently: 300 blog posts in drafts/unfinished. I even have three 20k word unfinished novellas gathering dust. (Over 5 years of casual writing)

Writers please help me: What process can I follow (or mind change can I do), to go from unfinished drafts to published posts? Am I alone in this challenge?

I don't know if I'm just being too picky/too perfect/too afraid of public opinion, or just plain lazy.

  • So many amazing responses. I've summaried the key points here. 1. Learn to identify which types of projects you never finish, 2. There is great satisfaction in completing a project, even if no one ever reads it. Celebrate the fruit of your labor 3. Spend time identifying your inhibitions. Only implement a strict schedule if you get the sense that your work is worthwhile and productive. 4. Keep a notebook 5. contd – thedancingqueen Mar 29 '19 at 4:24
  • I would start writing the conclusion if possible at the end of each post. 6. I would also consider chopping up one of your novellas and use them as posts. 7. You just need to sort the posts, and finish them. Make sure that your topic order starts with the posts that are nearly ready for publication. 8. Join (or form!) a critique group for bloggers that meets (online is fine) once a month to discuss each others' posts and the requirement is at least 2 posts a month ( – thedancingqueen Mar 29 '19 at 4:24
  • 9. You aim for a text that begins with a hook, has a compelling introduction, an intriguing and persuasive body and comes to a surprising and convincing conclusion. And that is hard work. 10. Do you love writing? Or do you love the idea of being a writer? – thedancingqueen Mar 29 '19 at 4:24
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  • Start with 301st: “How to manage 300 drafts.” Best of luck! – Kyslik Mar 30 '19 at 17:02
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I might be able to help; I spent my whole young life moving from project to project without finishing anything. Now I am a casually famous horror author whose work is unusually popular on YouTube, and my second book was optioned for a film.

1. Keep a notebook with you

I keep a large, college-ruled notebook in my backpack with me at all times. That backpack comes in the car with me, it goes to the office with me, it goes on hikes with me. Any time I get an idea for a story, I write the idea out in bullet points on a page in the notebook. Then I write a working title of the idea on the inside cover of the notebook, in the style of a table of contents.

The purpose of the book is not just to capture my ideas. It's to alleviate the burden of having an idea baking in my head all week, compelling me to abandon a current project and start a new one "while it's hot." I often forget about my ideas after I've written them in the notebook, only to return to them a month later and go "Wow, that one was good. Let's do that one next."

2. The Tattoo Rule

Some people just walk into tattoo parlors because they want a tattoo. Any tattoo. Maybe a cool skull? They do it because it sounds exciting, but they have no real investment in the piece and come to regret it years later. A rule I learned about tattoos is "Sketch out the idea, put it in a book, and stick the book on your shelf. Open the book in six months, and if you still like the art, get the tattoo."

Authors get really excited about the ideas that bubble up in their minds throughout the day. Sometimes their enthusiasm causes them to over-commit, and they start pounding away at a new story, novel, or blog post while the idea is still fresh in their mind. Don't do this. Have your excited reaction to the thought, jot down a few notes on it in your notebook, and carry on with your day. At the end of the month, review your notes, and pick the ones you still feel committed to. You'll find that most of your ideas were passing fancies that don't withstand the test of time (and that's why they never get finished even when you do start them in earnest).

3. Finish your project

Your post is asking "How do I finish projects?" so it's silly to reply "Finish your projects." But let this be your mantra: finish your project, singular. Work on only one project at a time until you can stabilize your output. Then allow yourself to do two if you feel the need. As a personal rule, I never exceed two. You only have so much energy and spare time, so if you spread your efforts over a large number of projects, it becomes unmanageable and nothing gets done.

The other side of this is, learn to identify which types of projects you never finish, and which types you do. What is it about these completed projects that maintain your engagement? Is it the fan response? Is it the subject matter? Is it the medium through which they enter the world? If you love writing but you aren't finishing your projects, maybe you're just doing the wrong projects.

4. Spend time identifying your inhibitions

Art is an act of expression. You have to learn about yourself to figure out what you want to write. If you aren't finishing anything, it might be the case that you have the innate urge to write, but on some level you don't know what to write.

I spent six years writing fantasy books and never finishing any of them. You know what I realized after all that time? I loved fantasy video games, not books. Once I had that revelation, it was easy to finish my books, because they all became horror/thrillers.

Or it might be something else. Are you sensitive to criticism of your work? I am so sensitive that on occasion I'll get a bad YouTube comment or book review and it'll mess me up for days. I can't advise you on overcoming that sensitivity because I myself have not discovered the answer. But some good advice I've gotten on the subject is...

5. Foremost, write for yourself, not for your audience

Fans are fickle and fan service is an exercise in futility. You will never make everyone happy, you will never avoid criticism. And even if you do get popular, your popularity will ebb and flow and wax and wane. All of it hurts, because your writing is an extension of you. It's easy to interpret criticism of your work as criticism of your identity.

But there's one way around: write what makes you happy, and write it because it makes you happy. There is great satisfaction in completing a project, even if no one ever reads it. Celebrate the fruit of your labor, even in private if you have to, and know that just completing a polished work that makes you proud is a great accomplishment in itself. Share the things you are proud of with the world, knowing not everyone will share your enthusiasm. It's just like dating: not everyone is going to be attracted to you, but you might reach just one person and make them happy. That's worth the effort.

Little details that make a big difference:

  • Don't do what Stephen King does and force yourself to write a thousand words a day. Write when you want, but commit to your writing time, even if you don't produce as much as you'd like. Only implement a strict schedule if you get the sense that your work is worthwhile and productive. If not, refer back to points 3 and 4

  • Get your writing space in order. For me, it's a desk with no clutter, a few candles, and an expensive pair of headphones to block out the noise. My wife knows to leave me alone during that time. I recommend maintaining a playlist of music that inspires you to write. For me it's atmospheric horror music by Akira Yamaoka, fantasy music by Jeremy Soule and Adrian von Ziegler, or ambient electronica like Amethystium. Maybe for you it's sitting beneath a tree in your yard with your laptop

  • Keep your notebook by your bed so you can jot down middle-of-the-night ideas and get them out of your brain so you can return to sleep. You'll spend more time writing and less time pondering later on

  • Pre-writing rituals are a good thing. Clean your house, take your shower, eat something, etc. Do what it takes to ensure no other invasive thoughts distract you from your writing time

  • Don't share your work before it's finished. One negative comment can throw your entire project into question and make you wonder if it's worth finishing. If you're anything like me, getting tripped up by a negative response usually is a death sentence on the whole story

Good luck!

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    Cool answer, welcome to Writing.SE Umbrella_Programmer! Really looking forward to your contributions to the site and I hope you will find that the site is also helpful to you. If you've got any questions about how the site works check out our tour, help center and Writing Meta. Have fun! – Secespitus Mar 27 '19 at 20:49
  • This has been so useful! I am going to sort them, and find out why im not feeling the need to finish them. Really appreciate your detailed response. I've made a note of each of your points. Thanks! – thedancingqueen Mar 28 '19 at 16:31
  • great answer! i realized i have a similar problem as @thedancingqueen , except i realize that my problem is 1) getting past the hump of it being "good enough" to be valuable to other people, and 2) actually figuring out how to promote and sell myself (my work) in a way that doesn't sell myself short, as that part seems to be ten times as hard as actually producing the content. maybe this is a new question... – Michael Mar 28 '19 at 17:13
  • I would like to add that fire-testing my ideas by tossing them at a RPG table works wonders. Playing D&D is my best source of inspiration. – T. Sar Mar 28 '19 at 20:18
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    I got here through Hot Network Questions and signed up just to comment on this amazing answer. I'm not a writer but an amateur music producer with dozens of unfinished projects. This answer sounds very universal and I'll try it with my work. Thanks ! – qyt Mar 29 '19 at 12:41
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Jutting down ideas for a blog post is easy and fun. Your notes can be completely unstructured. They don't have to carefully argue your point and come to a conclusion. In fact, essential parts of the finished blog post may be missing from your initial idea. Your notes can be as sloppy and lazy as you want to be, and they don't have to be in complete sentences with proper grammar and an easy to read style.

But as soon as you begin to write, you have to really make an effort. You aim for a text that begins with a hook, has a compelling introduction, an intriguing and persuasive body and comes to a surprising and convincing conclusion. And that is hard work.

You come from the effortless fun of dreaming up blog post and novel ideas and realize that actually writing those texts is hard and often frustrating work. So you put your draft away and turn to the fun of coming up with more ideas.

Writers call this 'worldbuilder's disease'.

It usually affects those who don't really want to write. Many people dream of having written a book (or blog post or movie script), but few people actually want to write. So your first step is to find out what you really truly want.

Do you love writing? Or do you love the idea of being a writer?

Finding the answer to that question is painful for some and liberating for others (and the pain or relief don't always come from the answer you would expect). So the first step to solving your problem is honesty. What kind of person are you, and what kind of life do you want to live? Not: What dreams and aspirations do you have? But: How do you actually want to live your life? How do you want to spend your days?

Do you want to struggle to force your free-floating thoughts into a stringent structure? Do you want to revise and revise and revise what you have written until it is publishable? Do you want to listen to honest critique and learn about your shortcomings and work hard to vanquish them?

When you can answer yes to those questions from the depth of your heart, then you will find that you can finish your texts, because then that will be what you want.

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    Joined this stack to upvote and say this sounds like advice from Stephen King's On Writing. – shoover Mar 27 '19 at 18:14
  • I'm stealing this advice for other cool-sounding hard-work jobs (since I couldn't word a better one specifically about writing). – wizzwizz4 Mar 27 '19 at 21:40
  • This is an introspection I must do. Thanks @Glorfindel ! – thedancingqueen Mar 29 '19 at 3:58
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    Your thanks should go to the (now deleted) user whose post I merely edited to fix a typo :) – Glorfindel Mar 29 '19 at 9:36
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One at a time.

It isn't laziness. That's just a word people throw out when work doesn't get done and in many cases, including yours, it's meaningless. You've done a lot of work, you're just not finishing it.

Set up a source of external pressure.

I had a novel in my head for 10 years before I did anything about it. I did some research and wrote an outline but then went 10 years before writing a single word of prose.

Then I joined a writer's group. Something I'd been wanting to do for years then it finally worked out. I get to present every 2 months. My first presentation was the outline, which I worked on to flesh it out. I was so nervous that the structure wasn't working or the idea was bad, and so on. My spouse was the only person who knew the story and he loved it, which helped, but wasn't enough.

I started writing. And writing. And writing. It's been 9 months and I'm more than halfway through the novel, working on chapter 20 (with 4 others written as well). I know I will finish it. I know it will be published (my dreams are a large publisher, my reality might be a small publisher or self-publishing, but it will happen).

All it took was making a promise to a handful of strangers that I would pull my weight.

Set deadlines.

I'm someone who thrives on deadlines. If anyone ever asks me to do something, the best way to make sure it happens is to set a date it must happen by. Daily fake-deadlines don't do it for me ("write 1000 words a day" or whatever). It has to be a real deadline, for other people, with a concrete finish.

Obviously I don't know you and can't get inside your head, but I'm going to guess that deadlines work for you too. Join (or form!) a critique group for bloggers that meets (online is fine) once a month to discuss each others' posts and the requirement is at least 2 posts a month (the consequences for failing don't have to be dire, just disappointing the other members is enough). You might post yours the day before the meeting, but that still counts. Or find some other compelling way to make your posts not internal goals but external deadlines.

Do the same with your novellas.

Invest other people in your creative output and write for them.

Sure, write for yourself, blah blah blah, but that isn't working. Doesn't work for me either. Write for the 5 members of your critique group. Write for the readers of the local organization's newsletter you've promised articles to. Take a class and write for your teacher. Whatever works.

Once you feel comfortable releasing "imperfect" work and focusing on just getting it done, you may not need the externals as much. Or maybe you always will. Doesn't matter, so long as you find a way to make it happen.

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    I really like this one -- especially the deadlines-for-others thing -- I find I ignore my own deadlines too much. I wonder if there's interest in spin-off options from W.SE? like a google group, shared calendar where we post our deadlines and links to completed posts? I know it's supposed to be Q&A-land here, but there's also a sense of community with writing, so... just musing here. – April Salutes Monica C. Mar 27 '19 at 17:56
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    Pull me into a chatroom if you and others ever want to discuss it, @April – Cyn says make Monica whole Mar 27 '19 at 18:02
  • The online bloggers is a great idea. I'll try to find this external pressure :) – thedancingqueen Mar 28 '19 at 16:33
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I imagine the issue is psychological, but not necessarily fear of public opinion.

I would pick an endpoint for the post; just basically what you think you want to conclude. The result. The point you wanted to make; even if the "point" is "I had a great time at this party."

Use that as a "compass" while you write the post. Meaning, what you write is to let you say that final thing. If the final thing is "I had a great time", then why? What happened? What was fun? Who did you meet? What is in your head that translates into a great time?

Writing often stalls out because the author feels like the writing is boring, or they are bored writing it, or they don't know how to find an endpoint. Knowing the ending helps you get over all that.

If the issue is getting bored, you are not following your compass. You have strayed away from supporting the final point and gotten yourself into some distraction, a sidetrack argument, or position or description.

And you know how to find the endpoint: When you run out of arguments for the endpoint, you write it! If your endpoint is "I had a good time at the party", you've shown us why that is true, so you can write the conclusion. If your endpoint is "I'm voting for Roger Rabbit", you've told us why.

I can't see the blog posts you abandoned, but I'd guess for all of them you began because you felt the urge to say something, and then wandered around and didn't say it, and gave up because that felt unsatisfying. Know your basic ending before you start writing, and that will automatically give some structure as you write the "support" for it.

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  • This advice reminds me of a really good episode of The Art of Manliness podcast: "How to Tell Better Stories" -- he said to start at the END - the point, the change in someone. Strip non-essential stuff, even if you know all these other details. Start as close to the end point as you can. artofmanliness.com/articles/how-to-tell-better-stories – April Salutes Monica C. Mar 27 '19 at 17:58
  • This is really good advice! It could be my main issue. – thedancingqueen Mar 29 '19 at 4:20
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In order to conquer something, we need to identify the cause

I'm not a published writer myself so I'll defer to someone with actual expertise, but on the topic of finishing stuff in general I've found that discovering precisely what it is that's stopping you is key in combating it.

  • Is it a sort of growing apprehension as you near completion that something, somewhere will go wrong? (Seems to be this one for me)
  • Is it fear of opening a piece of work to public criticism?
  • Is it a nagging sensation that what you've created isn't good enough?
  • Is it 'hobby-butterflyism' where the next idea grabs you before you've managed to complete the first?
  • Is it actually laziness? (I doubt it, considering how much you've created thus far)

Those are just some examples, but some honest self-reflection can help you target any response. For instance, with mine I find just getting involved with the actual aspect of 'doing' the final steps rather than planning ahead means that I get to the point where I'm finished without really realising it.

Depending on what the causes are, different techniques will be more effective. If you can pinpoint what the issue is, I can posit some potential solutions :)

Oh, and a quick google for 'How can I finish things' will show you that you are most definitely not alone, to the point that difficulty finishing things may as well be the default state for humans in general.

Edit: You mention that for you it seems to be a sort of self-doubt.

Like you're not ready yet to put your work out there (or your work's not ready yet).

There's two possible causes with that. One, your work isn't actually ready and your nagging thoughts are right; or two, your work's definitely ready and you're just doubting yourself. In isolation, it's very difficult to work out which of those two it is (as I'm sure you've discovered!).

Now, you can brute-force your way through this and just force yourself to finish something and see how people react, but what really helps in this situation is an outside opinion.

@Cyn's suggestion of a writing group would be ideal. Somewhere where you're not expected to produce finished work, and people are able to provide a trusted and supportive assessment of where your writing is at the moment. If you're not keen on joining a real-life group, any well-attended forum for creative writing where people are happy to provide critique on drafts would be great as well. If it's a forum tailored for your branch of writing then even better.

A real-life example might help

For me, my main creative outlet is painting and modelling. While little plastic aliens might not seem to map across particularly well to blog-writing, they both have distinct phases that are safe and unsafe. Most people are very happy with the modelling side, and so you get reams and reams of little grey plastic aliens that never see paint. It's paint that's the scary part.

Painting involves a whole different discipline that people are a lot less practised at. It's also the last stage before something is 'finished'. A lot of pressure on your little plastic alien skills ;)

However, people know this. There are myriad forums where people are very accepting of works in progress, and if you ask for it will happily provide constructive criticism. When I first started on these forums I was pretty adventurous in the modelling aspect, but as usual paint was trickier. My first forays were ok, but not exactly dazzling.

Three things really helped.

  • In general, it turned out that people were actually relatively interested in what I was doing. That came as a bit of a welcome surprise. Wasn't expecting that.
  • Every now and again you'd get someone who would say something like 'Awesome work, can't wait to see some paint!'. You'd be surprised at how effective even that very small expectation can be.
  • There are one or two people who are brave enough to provide genuine criticism. These people are invaluable. Not only will they help you progress, but you can also use them as a gauge for how ready your writing is (provided you're being brave too and asking for honest advice).

Oh, and the last thing to understand is that nothing is ever actually finished. If you're worried you won't do an idea justice because you're not experienced enough, it doesn't disappear when you publish your first article on it (even though it feels like it). In 6 months time if you feel like you've progressed significantly, you can rip the old article apart and stitch it back together new and improved. you can write a whole new article on the same topic, prefaced 'I know I've talked about this before, but hey, I think this is important so here's another one'.

Finishing something isn't the end of an idea, it's the start of the next process :) modelling->painting.

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  • While I do suffer from the 'Hobby-butterflyism' example a bit, I find my biggest hurdle at the moment is a kind of self-doubt. I constantly feel like I am not ready to start writing yet. Like I need to keep reading more material on how to write and at some point I will feel like I am ready. – Arkenstein XII Mar 27 '19 at 20:57
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    @ArkensteinXII You will never be ready like that. Just reading about writing doesn't make you a better writer, writing makes you a better writer. You need practical experience to put what you've learned into context to get anything out of it. Also, it's just writing, nobody dies if you screw it up. The stakes are low, just go for it. If it sucks, it sucks, but you've learned. Next one will be better. And now you also know exactly what sort of advice you need to look for to improve. – tylisirn Mar 28 '19 at 7:53
  • @ArkensteinXII Ah gotcha. I'll update the answer :) – Ynneadwraith Mar 28 '19 at 9:30
  • I think its "Is it a sort of growing apprehension as you near completion that something, somewhere will go wrong? " and that self doubt about 'where is this going?'. I am afraid more of throwing away bad work, than publishing bad work :) – thedancingqueen Mar 29 '19 at 4:19
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The other answers have given you great suggestions about understanding motivation and getting to work.

You now need a calendar. Decide on your blog post frequency, as you have done, and plan your topics, month by month. If you have a trusted beta reader, test some of your content with them.

Next, you need to prepare your content. Note that you can schedule posts in advance, which will be published on your blog at the set date. This will help you if you have moments in which you feel you can't produce anything, and moments in which you could write till world's ends.

I would also consider chopping up one of your novellas and use them as posts. If the story is interesting, that is an easy way to create a reader base: they will come back to your blog to know how the story continued. This is often the case for many sites with comic stories with a very long arc.

One final suggestion about preparing your content. You have already planned the topics. You just need to sort the posts, and finish them. Make sure that your topic order starts with the posts that are nearly ready for publication. These are low hanging fruits to achieve your goal. You will get momentum and experience as you do this: there is no reason to start with the hardest challenge.

And for all the rest: good luck :)

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  • Totally do-able! Thanks. I'll also post my novellas as a series ! – thedancingqueen Mar 28 '19 at 16:32
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I would like to ask, what is your goal with the blog posts?

For example 1: If your goal is SEO; then publishing the content for later updates will be best.

2: If your goal the 300 posts are something else I would start writing the conclusion if possible at the end of each post. Trust this will lead you the way to get the content going in between.

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  • End conclusion is a great idea. Will do ! – thedancingqueen Mar 28 '19 at 16:32

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