Who Am I to Give You Advice?
“Advice is like manure. You need to use it sparingly and consider the source.” —Dolores Feldon
I am not the best writer I know. I may not be as good a writer as you are. You may have a cleaner style or the power to create more vivid characters. You may possess stronger descriptive powers or a better sense of structure—the list goes on and on.
But if you’ve bothered to read this far, there is one thing I probably know more about than you do.
I have begun fourteen books in my life and finished twelve—one work of nonfiction and eleven novels. Of the twelve complete books, nine have been published or are about to be, and two are absolutely terrible. Terrible, but finished.
Statistically speaking, that puts me at twelve finished books for fourteen starts. In baseball terms, my batting average would be about .850. People who bat .850, if there were any, could afford a Rolls Royce with a chauffeur just to take them to the bathroom.
So however good or bad a writer I may be, I’m a world-class finisher.
Finishing a novel is obviously different than starting one. For one thing, it takes a whole lot longer. It demands discipline, good work habits, faith, courage, and a whole lot of other characteristics I don’t normally think of myself as possessing.
But here I am, with all these books that have my name on them. When I look at them, which I usually don’t do unless I’m dusting, I can see many things. I can see a lot of work, a lot of satisfaction, and even a few moments when what I wrote surprised and pleased me.
And I can see maybe five hundred times when I wanted to quit.
Not quitting is what this series is all about. If you want to start a novel and actually finish it, I may be able to help you. If you’ve started one or more and abandoned them partway through, I may be able to help you. Not quitting is something I know a lot about.
Other than the fact that I’ve finished all these books, I’m probably a writer who has exactly the same problems you have. For example:
a. I never know what’s going to happen when I write
b. I have ideas I love but don’t know how to write
c. I have books I bailed on
d. I face all the same challenges you do: procrastination, anxiety, writer’s block, indecision, frustration with the limitations of my talent, the occasional conviction that I’ll never again write a good sentence, a complete lack of ideas—you name it, I’ve got it.
But I’ve gotten through all of it, and the reason I’m writing all this is to help you get through it, too.
By the way, most of what you’ll read here can also be used to help you finish other kinds of writing—short stories, even nonfiction. I’m focusing on novels because that’s what I like to write. If you’d like, you can just mentally replace the word “novel” wherever it appears with the kind of writing project that interests you most.
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Ed. note: This is the third post in a series. Check out the Table of Contents to see what’s in store, and be sure to come back next week for a new installment.
Information about Timothy Hallinan’s next book in The Junior Bender series, HERBIE’S GAME, is here.