Are You a Starter or a Finisher?
Last week, I held a Facebook Live on the Writer’s Loom Facebook page. I focused on a question that’s important for writers to discern about themselves: are you a “starter” or a “finisher”? Do you gravitate toward beginning writing projects or concluding them? (See video below.)
Before I explain this in greater detail, let’s back up. All writing projects–regardless of how long or intensive–consist of three overall phases:
- A Beginning. This may consist of an initial “spark” or idea for a new project, new research or free writing, querying potential publishers about that idea, or start to write the introduction or first chapter.
- A Middle. During the middle, we are trying to keep the momentum of the beginning going while also trying to keep our idea, argument, plot, etc., on track.
- An End. In the final phase of a project, we may be wrapping up loose ends, pulling the chapters together into a single rough draft, crafting a conclusion, etc.
There are no black-and-white lines between these phases–and sometimes we may find ourselves oscillating between various levels of nested beginnings and endings. We may be writing the introductory paragraph (a kind of beginning) of our conclusion (a kind of ending). For most writers, the middle place is the hardest to be in–we’ll leave tackle that in another post.
Most writers find they tend to be stronger at either beginnings or endings. This doesn’t mean that one or the other comes EASILY or EFFORTLESSLY–simply that one or the other comes more naturally and seems less daunting. If you’re not sure which is your tendency, here are some helpful diagnostic questions:
- During which phase of your writing–starting or ending–do you find you have a greater sense of clarity or vision for your project?
- Which phase tends to energize you? Which phase tends to drain you?
- If you could break all the rules of writing, where do you wish you could start writing your project?
- Looking back on past writing projects, where have you tended to get your worst writer’s/ thinker’s block–the beginning or end (of books, chapters, paragraphs, sections, etc.)?
The reason it’s important to get a sense of our strengths and preferences on this question is so that we can better meet our selves where we’re at and employ specific strategies to further our writing.
If you’re a starter, here are some strategies to try next time you’re stuck in the midst of “Ending Ennui”:
- Write your introduction(s) first. If you’re like me, you’ve encountered plenty of teachers and well-meaning fellow writers who swear by writing the introduction(s) (of your book, or of chapters and sections) last. The rationale, here, is that if you write an introduction first, you will likely have to re-write it as your overall project or argument solidifies. For a starter, however, writing anything else first will simply not seem as natural and could actually stall the development of a clear focus and trajectory. I’m a starter and have always written my introductions first. They actually tend to be the portions of my work that require the least substantive revision later on. I’m convinced this is because I make sense of my writing through beginnings–if I fail to start at the beginning, I simply won’t develop the clear basis my project needs.
- See conclusions and endings as beginnings. Sounds Hallmark-y but it works. Good conclusions have an air of freshness and beginnings to them. If you think about it, the conclusion of a book is where you lead your readers into a New World–their lives after having read your book! You don’t just have to offer a rote summary of what you’ve just said, you can get creative and fresh and–to a certain extent, at least–turn your back on the book you’ve just written and look toward the future. Offer your readers a compelling vista or horizon. Use a clinching anecdote or reflection.
- Mine your already-written intro for an ending. Deep in the midst of ending despair, I’ve looked back on an intro to find a section or subsection that could work as the kernel of a conclusion. As mentioned above, intros and conclusions have a similarly fresh tone to them. It’s not uncommon to find one in the other.
Here are some inverse strategies for the finishers who may find themselves sinking in the “Starting Swamp”:
- Write your conclusion(s) first. This may seem even more counter-intuitive than writing your introduction first. However, I’ve noticed that some folks derive a great sense of clarity and energy from starting their project with the end in mind. They seem to summon the same vision writing their conclusion as I do from writing introductions, perhaps because it allows them to think teleologically about their writing and work backward from the place they want to end up.
- See introductions as a kind of ending. Just as a conclusion (to a book, for example) is the beginning of your readers’ lives after finishing your book, an introduction is the end of their lives without your book and the ideas it contains.
- Mine your conclusions for beginnings. Don’t be afraid to pull material for an introduction from an already-written conclusion–it might just be the way your mind works, and/or the way you can trick your mind into writing an introduction 🙂
Hopefully, these strategies help you work with your starter or finisher nature rather than against it.
If you’re a writer, consider liking and following my page on Facebook, where you’ll be informed of my weekly Facebook Live sessions–“Brown Bag Lunches for Writers”–as well as giveaways and lots of other helpful thoughts for writers.