A-Z Writer's Toolbox: Finish & Gamble

A to Z Disclaimer:

Like all craftspeople, writers need to keep a bag of tricks handy. A set of tools for the job (writing), if you will. Some of these traits or tools are obvious--like the need to have a hide as thick as a brick, for instance. Some are not. This month, I've been challenged to do a post every day of the week (excluding Sunday) that begins with a letter of the alphabet. I'm going to use this challenge to examine some of those necessary writing tools, both conventional and not. Hold on to your #2 pencil, here we go!

NOTE: I've added a page dedicated to my A to Z Writer's Toolbox posts. I figured I'd soon have a bunch of these things and it'll make it easier for you to browse any of the letters you might have missed. You can find a link to the page under the, "MORE STUFF" heading at the top of the right-hand column of this page.

Today is a double-toolbox day as I missed yesterday (the letter F). I'm going to talk about Finish and Gamble (which kind of sounds like a law firm) and why they're essential aspects of every writer's skill set.  I'll also be getting around to read more of my fellow A-Z peeps over the weekend, so don't be shy about leaving your link in the comments!

F is for finish

Be honest, how many dead projects do you have stashed in a drawer or tucked away in a folder on your computer?  Two?  Four?  Ten?  Are you and your never published and/or half-finished manuscripts responsible for the destruction of our rainforests?  I'm not judging you, honest.  In fact, the "project that never was" is kind of like a writer's battle scar.  They serve as badges of honor--as testaments--to our tireless quest to perfect the craft.

How many interviews with famous authors have you read where they confess to having several failed projects collecting dust?   

Just how many battle wounds you've collected probably depends on how long you've been writing, but I'd wager if you've been at it any amount of time at all you've had at least a couple of false starts.  The point is, having a project fizzle or die on the vine is part of the process.  It's normal and accepted.

That's most likely why actually finishing something is usually the final--and highest--hurdle for an aspiring author to overcome on their path to print.

So here's the challenge: can you finish?  Can you not only draft a story, but also spend the time and misery of having it raked over the coals by countless critique partners?  Can you then re-write it and edit it still again after that?   Can you query agents, get rejected, revise and then query again?  Can you make the changes recommended by an editor even after you've already changed every character's name in the story twice?  Can you be gracious in the face of bad reviews?  Can you start the process all over again?

The answer to all is yes.  How do I know?  Because thousands of authors before us have done all of those things and more.  The good news is that it seems that the 'FINISH' tool is one that we can learn to master over time and trial.  The bad news is that until we learn to use it, our dreams may have to wait a bit.  So why not dig out that old project and start practicing?

G is gamble

Vegas baby!  City of Sin, a playground for adults, what happens there may take months to cure, etc., etc.          We've heard all of the lines before, but what can writers learn from the gambling Mecca of the U.S.?  (Other than "you never walk away from the table when you're on a heater"...)

Risk taking behavior, in writing at least, is a must.  You can't simply write what you're comfortable with.  That's a formula for snooze-worthy prose.  If characters are going to surprise the reader, they must first surprise you.  If you aren't shocked by a plot-turn, neither will your readers be.  Great stories are usually the result of great risks taken by an author.

Orson Scott Card's classic, Ender's Game, is full of shocking moments.  Children literally kill each other.  Do you think O.S.C. lost a few nights of sleep wondering if it was too much?  I do!  I'm sure J.K. Rowling had to think twice before killing off any of the beloved characters that met a sad end in her stories.  I can't imagine the hate mail she garnered for snuffing some of them, but her stories were better for it.  

So if you've been toying with including a drastic POV shift, an iffy character choice or maybe something socially risky in your stories, I say let it ride.  Unlike Vegas, if you lose the gamble, you can always fix it later and it won't cost you your home or your marriage.  And who knows, it might just be the gamble that pays off.  



  1. I've already rewritten my first novel three times over and am now rewriting parts to fill in the holes.

  2. Hey E.J.

    Just caught up on your A-Z, some brilliant advice sir!

    Love the new look btw.

    Lady A x

  3. Love it! Excellent points, EJ. I can honestly say I've finished every project I've started and revised til I'm sick of it. THey're nicely stashed away on a file somewhere, waiting for that special day when I can lay them all on my agent and revise with their suggestions. lol

    And I love risks. Anything that can get a rise out of readers is always worth it. Yep, I cried when Dumbledore died and couldn't believe it for days. Total shell shock. lol

  4. I have started six novels. I have finished two. I queried the first one only to crash and burn. This last one is the best one so far, but I still don't know if it will get past the query stage. It's had some positive attention, so we'll see.

    I liked both posts. Well done. And now you're all caught up!

  5. I love your posts. They are always motivating and thought provoking!
    Thanks very much!

  6. There's one way to keep old projects from moldering -- Just keep a computer file for each project has jot down ideas as they come. Eventually, the new ideas reach critical mass. [Another way computers make writing easier than typewriter days.]

  7. Stellar advice as always, E.J! I too have thumb drive loaded down with half done and/or rejected projects. That is just the way it is.

  8. I'm spending this week and next trying to finish up on some of the unfinished things I have to do. This week I'm painting, next I'm revising a chapter book.

  9. Oh...there are so many projects I need to finish. I think sometimes I sabotoge my own WIPs.

  10. Very nice :D Yeah, I may have a project or three collecting virtual dust in my Creative Documents folder... and taking risks is tough. But SO MUCH FUN.

  11. I've got heeeeaps of unfinished projects. But I'm happy to say I have a number of finished ones too. well, first drafts anyway :D

  12. The only positive in my battle scars is that now they are virtual so very few trees were harmed in the process.


  13. When it comes to writing, there are so many ways to gamble. :)

  14. Hey, E.J. - I don't comment every day, but I do read every day, and I'm really enjoying your A-Z toolbox!


“Much unhappiness has come into the world because of bewilderment and things left unsaid.” ― Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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