Unfinished business

If you’ve been reading here awhile, you may have noticed that I have a nasty habit:

I start a lot of projects that I don’t finish.

On this blog, I started a series on openness, about what I share and what I don’t and why…. Many weeks ago. On the science blog, I started a series on cancer that, thus far, has only two entries of what was going to be five or six.

I could blame both of those instances on circumstances. I planned to commit to spending more time writing instead of seeking out work for the month of November, and as chance would have it, I promptly got assigned several new students and had some new work opportunities fall into my lap, and then ended up getting a full-time job (which I started Monday! It’s pretty cool so far). And more generally, this is a blog I write in my free time largely for myself, and shit gets busy and until I got hired last week I’d spent most of the year scrambling to support myself on an inadequate mix of part-time/freelance gigs, so it’s understandable that things don’t always get done when I planned.

I could say all of that, and it wouldn’t be false, but it also isn’t really the truth. It’s a load of excuses. The fact of the matter is, I’m an epic procrastinator, especially around writing. When I have outside deadlines and criteria for my work, I don’t always necessarily thrive, but I get my shit done. When I’m writing for me though, my doubts and guilt and shame and just shear laziness and cowardice get the better of me an absurd amount of the time. This has been an ongoing problem for me ever since I first promised myself that I’d journal everyday, which was probably when I was about eight. I’ve done it with my journals, with my pre-teen poetry projects, with the handful of fiction pieces I’ve attempted, with essays and with miscellaneous other projects I have set for myself. When it comes to writing, if I don’t have a grade or a job on the line, I rarely finish what I start. I rarely follow through on any of my plans for long.

I’m deeply ashamed of this fact. In fact, the shame surrounding unfinished projects is one of my biggest barriers to getting writing work done. It’s a deeply stupid vicious cycle. Especially because I’ve gone about fixing it in entirely the wrong way. I’ll start a new project and tell myself: “This time, it’s going to be different. I’m going to [write/post/publish/submit/work-on X] every [day/week/other interval], and I’m going to stick to it.” And then the first time I screw up, I get absurdly angry with myself and then spiral into despair about it and then get defensive and decide it was a stupid/over-ambitious project in the first place and who did I think I was kidding? And then I quit.

Frankly, the only reason that I’m even still writing on this blog even semi-regularly, is because I have some readers. It’s not that I’m vain or need everyone to listen to me, it’s the accountability. Basically, now I feel (correctly or not) like I owe you all something, and that is enough to counter the jerkbrain for just long enough to get something written and posted now and then.

But while I haven’t given up on the blog as a whole—if only because I’m terrified of losing what little readership I have and then completely giving up writing again as a result—I have dropped the ball on many of my goals for the blog. I’ve never really stuck to a reliable posting schedule, and I’ve quit halfway through discussing several different topics because I got stuck or felt like I wasn’t doing the subject justice.

And I want to stop doing this. It frustrates me, it upsets me, and it’s unprofessional. If I ever want to make something of a career, even a tiny one, out of writing, I need to be able to believe in my projects long enough to finish them. And even more importantly than that… I have shit I want to say, and I’m tired of saying only a fraction of it.

So I’ve been thinking about what exactly is causing this problem for me, and how to go about fixing it. Obviously, a lot of the problem is just the bad habits that have plagued my writing life for as I can remember, as I discussed above. But I really want to change things, and I have been trying to build new, better habits—it just hasn’t been working. There has to be a better way to go about this–some factors I’m not considering.

Here’s what I’ve come up with:

  1. I write to figure out what I think, so often I end up changing my mind about what I want a series/piece/post to be while I’m in the middle of writing it. On the blog, that’s often after I’ve already published about my plans for the project or pieces of the project itself, and then I feel like an idiot and panic rather than backtracking gracefully.
  2. I tend towards long-form writing, and I’m very aware that most people don’t read 5,000 word blog posts, so I try to break things up. Which is fine, except that when I realize “oops, I’m up to 1,500 words, I should probably wrap up this post and continue tomorrow”… I tend to run out of steam entirely. I lose my momentum.
  3. I don’t have a very well-established process for writing. I don’t write and re-write and re-write and edit and polish and then hit post, at least not most of the time. I may agonize over a piece of writing, but even if it takes me 6, 7, 8+ hours, I usually write things in a single sitting. Because if I walk away, I lose my nerve. I come back and I don’t believe in it anymore.

So I’m deciding to work on this. I’m not going to be too rigid, because establishing firm plans and then freaking out when I change my mind or screw them up is part of the problem in the first place. But I’m going to try to change some things, and see how it goes.

For starters, I’m going to really try to spend more than one session on any given post, at least some of the time. This will be better for my writing in general, as I really need to learn how to work in smaller bursts and how to edit more effectively. Sometimes I’ll still put things up the same day I write them… but only sometimes.

Secondly, as hard as this is to do, I’m going to try and write pieces in their entirety at the length that I feel they should be, and then edit from there, either cutting them down drastically or breaking them up into separate posts.

Third, I’m going to finally have a posting schedule, and I’m going to work on always keeping some stuff in the queue, so that I can have both some formal deadlines and some flexibility. For now, I’ll be posting one long-ish post on Wednesdays at 9am Pacific, and one short-ish post (a link round up or old journal entry) on Sundays at 9am.  As I have time, I may post other short or long posts outside of that schedule, but this way I’m committing to never being away for more than a few days at a time, which hopefully will fix the problem of shame-spirals perpetuating a cycle of not posting.

Finally, I’m going to put some thought into writing for other formats. There are so many stories I want to tell here that I’ve held back on, not because I’m not ready to share, but because they just aren’t blog posts. They’re fucking books. Or at least 10,000 word essays. And maybe I’m wrong about that, and once I get them down on paper I can trim things down to just the essentials. Or maybe I’m wrong about how much people are willing to read at one time, and I can put out huge pieces here and some people will read them. Or, you know, maybe I do need to write some epic stories/essays and find some way to put them out into the world at their natural length. Maybe I need to write a book. I don’t need to decide right now, but I’m thinking about it.

So yea. That’s where I’m at for the moment. I need a better writing process, and I’m trying to build one.

——————————————

I know some of my readers are bloggers/writers as well, so if you have the time or inclination, I’d love to hear about your writing process. Do you write drafts and then edit extensively? Do you have a schedule? Do you write daily, or at otherwise pre-set times? Do you shame-spiral about not writing like I do?

 How does your writing life work?

17 thoughts on “Unfinished business

  1. Lol! I see so much of myself in this post. You’re definitely not the only one struggling with starting projects and never finishing them. I do that all the time, but I think I make it less obvious because I’m hyper-aware of the fact that I don’t always have time to finish things.

    For example, when the most recent season of The Walking Dead started, I wrote a recap of the first episode…in which I admit in writing that I suck at doing recaps and might not write another one. And then several episodes later, I was like : “Oh shit, I forgot to do recaps!” Of course, part of the problem with me writing about TV is that I don’t have cable, and Javi and I download our TV off the interwebz…but I digress.

    Back when I worked at CSI, I had a lot more time to write and update posts. I had time to start them, stop and scrutinize, come back later and tweak some more, etc. I do not have that kind of luxury any more, and I mostly write my posts in one sitting. That’s not to say that I don’t immediately find typos after “previewing” my post on WordPress and then have to go back fix those things. Not to mention all the real-time editing I do as I write. But right now I write mostly in one sitting.

    Also, I’m always trying to commit to little biweekly or monthly posts that almost never occur. I desperately want to do one of those “Here’s what I’m reading, watching, loving this month” but they never happen. Life gets in the way. The posts that come easiest to me are usually rants or general life updates, rather than happy reviews or recaps of recent adventures. I’m also incredibly bad at uploading photos in a timely manner. So there’s that.

    I don’t know if any of this comment will help you, but I do hope you know you’re not the only one starting projects without finishing them. And honestly, I doubt any of your frequent readers are keeping track. I read 98% of your posts, and I’m not keeping track of your projects.

    Ultimately, don’t worry about it too much. Just keep writing when you can, and when you feel inspired! We’ll keep reading. You’re writing is just THAT GOOD! 🙂

      1. Lol! Building up your ego is part of the point! The other point is me just being genuinely honest with you about my opinion of your work/writing/process. 🙂 The honesty part is the easiest!

  2. Hi, Keely-

    You are something of a role model for me. I’m planning a personal blog on my own strategies for dealing with brain dysfunction– it’s not there, yet. But it’s getting there.

    However, I also manage blogs for our site online and do professional posts and articles, and work with other writers who do that. In my experience, everyone fumbles their way to what works for them, and it’s different for everyone. So, what you’re describing sounds like the “correct” process. I’m glad you’re thinking along the lines of keeping up with the blog, as a fellow-sufferer I find your sharing inspirational.

    One tool that I’m finding very useful is to have an online writing/editing site where I can store my posts and articles and edit and work on them from any location, in simple (that is, blog-ready) formatting. From there (I happen to use Editorially,com, it works for me but there are others,) I can share the post as it evolves with a couple of “beta testers.” When it’s the way I like it, that service is directly linked to the website and I can drop it into the CMS all formatted and ready to go.

    It sounds like an extra step the way I describe it, but all I can say is it makes it easier for me.

    I hope you do keep writing.

    1. Man, a role model? I don’t really feel worthy of that, but uh, thank you.

      Regarding the writing process, I checked out editorially.com and it looks really cool! I recently enlisted some friends to become occasional editors for me because there are a few posts I’ve been having some trouble getting out the door, and that may be a really useful tool!

      And yes, I will keep writing. Never as much as I wish I could, but as much as I can manage.

    1. Hehe, I LOVE Hyperbole and a Half. I think I’ve read everything Allie has ever posted. That one is definitely a favorite though.

  3. I think I am going through a similar thing to you, although my best friend suggests I’m just burnt out from my writing internship. I’m considering going on a writing hiatus instead of leaving my blog completely. Maybe I’ll miss writing and come back to in a heartbeat. Meanwhile, my blog seems to be dying.

  4. For the record, I LOVE lengthy blog posts / long-form writing in general, and I’m sad that more bloggers don’t go more in-depth with their subjects. Your yoga post is one of my favorites (and partial motivation for starting yoga recently!) and I think it’s among your longest. One of my favorite bloggers, Harriet J at Fugitivus, was insanely popular AND crazy long-winded while she was still writing. Captain Awkward goes pretty long sometimes, too. So maybe you should do what feels natural, and an audience that appreciates it will find you.

    1. Thank you! I think I will keep up writing long-ish things here, and try not to feel awkward about it. If people want to read, they’ll read.

  5. Writing process, hmmm, well, since I tend to either be ranting or thinking out loud, and those things are best done in one go while they’re still fresh, that’s what I do. I usually get the bulk of a post down in one sitting which takes about an hour or two. Then I’ll go back and edit/proofread, using the WP preview bit because the change of surroundings makes it easier to spot typos and things don’t don’t sound how I wanted them to. The majority of my posts end up over a thousand words, sometimes as many as two thousand, and I am okay with that. I like reading long form essays and figure those that do too will stick around.

    As for a schedule? Well, I start to feel a little guilty if over a week has passed since I last wrote anything and when it’s been longer than that I usually ease back in with a short up-date post. I admire those who regularly post twice a week and stand in awe of those that post daily! I don’t shame spiral about how often I write the way you do, but I shame-spiral on other things, particularly the blasted PhD data analysis. I don’t have any good strategies for dealing with that unfortunately so would like to know what others do.

    With regards to projects and series and not completing them, I don’t have much experience with them – the only series I’ve done was my write up of a Careers event I went to and that was mainly converting my handwritten notes into digital coherence and was as much for my benefit as any one else’s. I’m not even sure I finished the final post but no-one seemed particularly interested in it so whatever. Then there’s me trying to keep up to date with the blogging about being off sick with PhD stress but again, that’s as much about me as putting evidence out there that folks aren’t alone.

    I also have a bit to say about you loosing faith in your own work and thinking it isn’t good enough or that you can’t do it justice, and that is the somewhat cliche statement of “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good”- originally by Voltaire. There is also a derivative of that along the lines of “don’t let good be the enemy of done”. I decided early on with my blog that good enough was good enough. I try to get posts to the point where I am mostly happy with them, even if they’re not perfect, just to get them out there. And you said it yourself, you’re fed up of not saying all you have to say, so say it. My tagline is “Because I have words” which is my reminder to myself that I have stuff to say.

    Dear Sugar’s “Write Like a Motherfucker” might be of interest? It’s a bit twee but also very profound.

    As for the writing of posts to figure out what you think at the start of a project, write those intros and sit on them for a week? To see what you think later? Also, I think your idea of writing the long stuff in its entirety first before thinking about how to turn it into posts might be really useful. There is also a 750 Words thing that some bloggers (CA?) said is useful – you aim to write 750 words a day, about anything just so that you can build up a habit of daily writing, if that’s what you need right now.

    love as always x

    1. I <3 Dear Sugar. I've read all of them, and have the book. I could probably stand to re-read "Write Like a Motherfucker" though. 🙂

      It's interesting to hear that you don't worry too much about length… I seem to be getting that feedback a lot. A few of the people I've talked to in real life about this are really biased towards shorter pieces because of their personal preferences, and perhaps I've let that influence me too much. I like reading long stuff, some other people do too, so why not write it?

      1. There’s a book?!!!! Shiny!

        It would make sense that length is very definitely a personal preference. You’d expect your regular readers here though to be more than happy with long-form writing. After all, we’re here. I find that with you and others that I read, I don’t notice when the post is “long” if it’s flowing well.

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