Unfinished Projects and How to Complete Them

We get it. Writing is hard. You know what’s just as hard? Staying motivated to keep writing.

As writers, one of the most enjoyable parts about a project is beginning, when the ideas are fresh and flowing and you’re creating characters, ideas, and sometimes entire worlds seemingly from thin air. It’s an incredible feeling. Similarly, ending a project is its own kind of exhilaration; typing that last word with a satisfying click and sitting back at those two wonderful words, “the end.”

And then there’s the pesky middle part – actually writing. That’s… less fun. Okay, it’s not that it’s not fun. But it’s that middle part that, while still enjoyable, is where fatigue generally sets in. In fact, many times, we find our resolve petering out before we’re actually done, leaving us with a half-finished manuscript just sitting there… mocking us. Maybe we’re out of ideas, or maybe there’s another project that’s begging us to give it more attention than the one we’re currently working on. Whatever the reason, my bet is that if you’re a writer of any sort, you’ve had your fair share of unfinished projects. At the very least, the staff writers here at GUG are no stranger to this intriguing and frustrating phenomenon. Here, straight from the horse’s mouth, are some accounts of these restless souls of stories and concepts yet untold, and how each of our writers decided to finally come back and give them the life they truly deserved from the start.

Girl biting pencil and staring at laptop

I think we’ve all been there… (Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash)

Nathan Kiehn

For years, I’d wanted to write about comics, but I never managed to latch onto an idea that worked. I juggled various premises. Do I write about favorite issues? Favorite writers? Do I discuss comics from a Christian point of view or via a particular literary lens? Nothing ever stuck. Two specific projects seemed to offer an avenue, but my passion sputtered after a while and lost all forward momentum, like when Spider-Man runs out of web fluid. The projects became repetitive and uninteresting. I felt like I was merely regurgitating information without offering anything new or unique. “Just write” had been my mantra, and while that was certainly encouraging enough to put pen to paper, it didn’t offer anything specific. That was late 2019.

Then early 2020 came around. While attending a work conference (before the shutdowns, natch), I started putting the pieces together for a longer project – a series of blogs reviewing Spider-Man comics from a chronological perspective. The project took a few months to develop as I scrounged around my collection, but I finally had a very specific idea. Though it reshaped itself over time, the main goal always remained. I began writing and posting in May of last year and, since then, have been writing fairly consistently on my personal website as well as Geeks Under Grace.

Previous attempts at writing failed when I approached without a plan. “Just write” was wonderful until I came upon the subsequent question, “Write about what?” For me, and perhaps for others, the key was having a specific idea, a tangible goal, a purpose for why I was writing. Others may find it easy just to sit down and start typing or writing. I needed a discernible idea, a direction. Even then, writing my first handful of posts felt more like a chore than breathing life into a dream. It wasn’t until I began seeing the fruits of my efforts – producing consistent content – that the dream felt real.

My aunt, a writing teacher, always asks her students, “So what?” What’s the purpose behind your writing? What’s the objective? What are you trying to tell others in a way nobody else can? Discovering that for my project was key in its inception and continuation. My ideas died when interest waned, when I became directionless. I first needed to find a purpose, answering that “So what?” question, before embarking on the concepts I’d constructed.

Glasses with a notepad and wads of paper

Wesley Lantz

I’ve always been intrigued by writing. When I was 10, I wrote my very first story: a Dr. Seuss-inspired story poem called The Land of Flip-Flop. Since that time, I have had somewhat of a legacy of unfinished stories. When I was around 14, I managed to complete a novel, and even began a sequel, before moving on to a completely different story (that I also left unfinished RIGHT AT THE CLIMAX). After abandoning that project, I realized that my original novel was kind of hot garbage. I attempted a rewrite, but again, my resolve and interest petered out halfway through.

So… yeah, I don’t exactly have a great track record of finishing my novels. Then, right before college, I started a new story. And this was the one. I knew this was the one I was going to pour everything into and really make it good, maybe even get it published. Who knew what could happen? Well… college happened, and in case you’ve never gone to college, let me tell you that it does not lend itself to writing in your free time. When your days are spent studying for and writing papers, as well as working as a staff writer for the school newspaper, the last thing you want to do when you have a spare second is write more words. Thus, for most of college, this fantasy novel took a backseat to the rest of life.

I was able to finish a couple one-act plays in that time, motivated by classes and school-sponsored play reading festivals. One of them, God of My Own World, even got produced the year after I graduated. That was my first real experience with determining to finish something, and then sitting down and making it happen. Seeing the fruits of my labor pay off in such a direct way as a full play staging really inspired me to sit back down and finish the novel I’d started over four years earlier.

Guess what? I actually did it. It took me a lot of small writing sessions whenever I could, but I finished the first draft near the end of last year. Since it was written over such a long period of time, my writing style changed significantly between the beginning and ending. I did a full rewrite and finished that just a couple months ago. I’m in the middle of the revision stage, and I’m hoping to find an editor and publisher in the somewhat near future.

This story has been in development for over six years, and I often worry that if it doesn’t get published I’m going to feel like I’ve wasted countless hours of my time. But I won’t know if it will go anywhere unless I try. And if anything, this has stretched my writing endurance, as well as my penchant for creating stories, further than anything has before. The key thing is to set your resolve and dedicate little chunks of time regularly to working. Even if it’s just an hour here or a half hour there, do the thing. I promise you, it adds up.

Crumbled paper next to a wastebasket

Spencer Patterson

It was the summer after I got married. I had a six-hour-a-day job at John Brown University’s advancement department and ultimate frisbee practice twice a week, which meant plenty of time to start the novel I’d been dreaming of. So I did. A professor helped me through an independent study where we analyzed and enjoyed George Saunders’s The Tenth of December. By the end of the summer, I had a novella.

Then the fall semester of 2018 started, which meant the end of my summer job but the start of captaining JBU’s ultimate frisbee team, reading the dozens of books English majors are supposed to read (or at least skim), and writing papers and taking tests over those books. My wife practically lived in Balzer, JBU’s engineering building, working vigorously on her senior project while dealing with the bodily weirdness of pregnancy. Our first daughter was due the week before winter finals. My novel, Drake, sat abandoned between the weekend ultimate tournaments, the books, the papers, and the late nights typing words I didn’t believe in to hit a page count.

At the end of the 2019 spring semester, things slowed down. Our daughter, Annelise, started sleeping through the night, JBU’s ultimate season ended, and I had found a job teaching English at the high school my wife graduated from in Kansas City, Kansas. I picked Drake back up, reading it and cringing at words I once thought so original. That summer, as my family and I lived in my grandparents-in-law’s basement, played at splash parks with Annelise, and looked for houses; I attacked Drake, trying to pull the plotline together, fill the holes, and stretch it into a full-length novel.

Then fall semester started again. We found a house with a leaky basement; and I was overwhelmed, depressed, clueless, and stressed while I stumbled through my first year of teaching. I tried to wake up at 5:30 AM, tried to write in our leaky basement, but I slept at the keyboard too often and eventually gave up. I wanted to keep my job so I could provide for my wonderful stay-at-home wife and Annelise, but it seemed like I had to choose between my job and Drake.

When COVID-19 happened during the Spring Break of 2020, I was relieved. The stress left. Teaching online school from home came naturally after my online Master’s classes, so I could begin again, for the second time, on Drake. This time, I would finish it, and I did, partway through the summer. I sent it to my first readers. I took an intentional break, as Stephen King suggests, and waited. When the comments came back, positive and negative, I felt invigorated. I kept writing in our leaky basement.

Then fall semester started again, but this time 5:30 AM agreed with me. This time, I felt a furnace within my gut. I don’t know if it was a cultivated furnace or a gifted, installed furnace. Perhaps both, like a cared-for castle on a deep foundation.

So I wrote and finished the second ready-for-readers draft of Drake at 1:07 AM on a Saturday morning. The second round of readers said, “Close.” I revised, rewrote, and filled in more plot holes. I tried to fill the holes in our leaky basement when I didn’t know what to write.

Thanksgiving Break came, and I finished the third ready-for-readers draft. The third round of readers said, “Yes.” I revised, bolstered, added some more meat, extra world-building, and dropped nuggets that hinted at the ending. I finished in February 2021.

And now I’m querying Drake.

Frustrated man stares at laptop and pulls his hair

Thomas White

When I was in high school, our English class was studying various fairy tales and breaking down the elements that make them stand apart from other genres of literature. At the end of the section, our English teacher gave us the option of either taking a quiz on the fairy tales we had studied, or taking what we had learned to write our own fairy tale. Writing had fascinated me for a while, and I had written outlines for potential stories that I had in my head. I saw this as an opportunity to test myself and to see if I could write a complete story that would be coherent from beginning to end. Writing my own fairy tale was the most fun I ever had with an assignment in school, and I submitted it eagerly, waiting to get feedback. Our teacher had told us to give each of our printed out stories covers so that she could hang them on the bulletin board in our classroom. After the assignments had been graded, I came into class and saw that my fairy tale had been hung in the center of all the other stories on the board. My teacher then told me that the reason my story was front-and-center was because she thought it was the best story of the ones that had been submitted. Many of the students regarded this particular teacher as a tough grader, so for her to see that to me was high praise. Her encouragement inspired me to continue writing and to try to write my own novel.

Throughout high school and into my college years, I wrote a lot of fiction in my free time, with my ultimate goal being the completion of a novel. I would write stories that were typically either fantasy or science fiction, as those are the genres that I tend to enjoy the most. However, my stories rarely made it past the first few pages. I would often come up with an idea for a story, write an outline or first few pages of a draft, and then give up. This happened because I was afraid of writing something unoriginal or mediocre. The idea of sinking hours upon hours into a project only for it to turn out bad was a frightening prospect to me. As such, my writing, while frequent, rarely ever materialized into complete works.

I continued this pattern until fairly recently. A couple years ago, I came to seminary to begin working on my Master’s degree. I got plugged into a new church home with people I felt connected to. At my church, I was surprised to learn that there were others who not only had the same goal of writing a novel, but had actually finished full drafts and were looking to get them published. This revelation helped me realize that my dream was not as unattainable as I had previously assumed. I began talking to these friends about the ideas that I had for my books and getting feedback from them. This strong support group who was passionate about writing and fiction encouraged me to get back to writing with the intent of seeing my ideas to completion. 

I am currently working on a series of fantasy novels that incorporate ideas and story elements that have been in my mind since I was a teenager. I have already written over twenty pages of my first draft, which is more than I have ever had with any of my previous story ideas. My goal is to have the first book completed by the end of this year and work towards getting it published. I still encounter difficulties in terms of being motivated, and writing a novel while also being a Master’s student may seem like a fool’s errand. While I am not always consistent in my writing habits, I am far better than I was in past, and I have people around me who encourage me to keep moving forward. I am excited by writing again, and I can’t wait to see where I go from here!

 

 

 

 

 

 

There you have it. Hopefully these stories make you feel just a little bit less alone on your journey to resurrect projects that have lain by the wayside for too long. There is hope, don’t worry. You’re not the only one with a backlog of stories to get to. Just keep pushing, one bit at a time, and you’ll make it fine. 

Wesley Lantz

Wesley's first memory of video games is playing through Super Mario World with his mom when he was 3 years old. Since then, he's been a classic Nintendo kid, but has branched out to the far lands of PlayStation in recent years. He enjoys the worlds that video games create and share with their audiences, and the way video games bring together collaborators from so many different disciplines like music, visual art, literature, and even philosophy. He is an advocate for excellency in all things, but isn't immune to a few guilty pleasure games, which may or may not include Disney's Party for the GameCube.

Leave a Reply