All my life, it seems, I've had people tell me, "Finish the job! Don't do a half-way job!"
Parents and teachers (elementary school through college) and, because of the repetition of the injunction, even my own conscience have all shouted, "FINISH THE JOB! DON'T LEAVE THINGS HALF DONE!"
And I've tried to develop that habit of finishing the jobs I have to do. Not always. Not perfectly. But at least I've put forth the effort to follow that mantra and make it a habit of my life.
As a writer, however, I've often found myself with multiple unfinished projects and manuscripts. And I sometimes feel guilty about it. Should I be?
Just out of curiosity, the other day I dug through the piles and piles of paper work--research notes, photocopies, and manuscripts--stored in stacks of banker's boxes in my office to get an idea of how many such unfinished projects I now have, and I was appalled--and guilty. There sat the research for and a not-quite-finished manuscript of a book on 19th-century medical practices. Another on a local historical topic placed in its broader historical context. Two attempts at fiction. And even more finished but unsubmitted and unfinished manuscripts. All were unfinished for a variety of reasons. On top of this, there were more boxes of partially researched topics for possible later development into books or articles.
Looking at all these "unfinished" jobs, I felt a wave of guilt. Why can't I finish the job?! I wondered.
Is my guilt justified? In some cases, definitely. In other cases, however, I don't think so.
Reading the biographies of successful writers, I find that that was true for almost all of them. They all seemed to have the same problem: starting multiple projects but never finishing many of them. No market? Not the right timing for that piece? Pure procrastination or loss of interest? So many variables come into play with unfinished writing projects!
At the same time, I have to remind myself that the publishing industry moves slowly, and it takes time for a manuscript to be "finished," too. (By "finished," I mean published.) And I began to remind myself of the benefits and advantages of having so many unfinished projects sitting around. Like they say of wine (how would I really know since I never drink the stuff?), no article or book before its time! Let it age! Its time will come.
No effort, whether researching, outlining, planning, or writing, is really wasted or lost. The writer has gained from all those efforts. Practice, if nothing else, but also experience, learning what works best (or not at all), etc. Also, having a pile of boxes filled with unfinished works ensures a stockpile of material available for use when the time comes.
And what about that guilt? I've concluded that the only thing we writers should feel guilty about in this matter is any laziness or procrastination we've exhibited that kept us from trying to finish. Continually working to prefect and prepare the work for submission at the right time.
Now I must get busy trying to "finish the job" with something from that growing pile of "unfinished!" At least make the attempt!