Never finish what you start? You need to do this.
I used to turn every idea into a novel. The moment I bumped into a stimulating story seed, I’d start writing page after page, burning off pure inspiration.
But the inspiration would run out. And with it, the ideas.
I’ve started a lot of novels.
Do you relate? Have you started a zillion projects, only to run out of ideas and give up? I’ve been there.
There’s NOTHING wrong with getting inspired by an idea. That’s the best part of being a writer.
But not every idea has enough substance to be a whole novel. Or even a decently long story. Stumbling across a pile of bricks and lumber doesn’t mean you can build a mansion—there’s not enough material. But you can build something.
With twenty unfinished projects piled around you, you may feel like you never finish what you start.
That was me. It was getting ingrained in my identity: I loved to start things and hated finishing them. I doubted I was even capable of finishing something.
Is that you?
You have to change your thinking.
The only way to do that? Finish something. Today.
That’s how I broke out of the cycle. I proved to myself that I was capable of finishing something. It changed my mind, my thinking, and now I finish what I start—novels, short stories, blog posts.
I know you have at least a few great story ideas handy. They may be a quick paragraph in your notebook or the first two pages of an unfinished story. You may even have an unwritten idea kicking around your brain this very minute.
Pick the idea that excites you, the one you can’t wait to try out.
You’re going to write a complete short story from that, and you’re going to do it in 24 hours or less.
If you can’t do it today, look at your calendar, pick the first available day and commit to it.
Tell your family and friends what you’re planning to make sure you will be uninterrupted. Plan the perfect writing space. Pick an inspiring playlist. Buy a fresh notebook and a cool pen. Seriously, do whatever it takes to help yourself succeed!
Even if you’re only a half-decent typist, you’re capable of writing 7200 words in a few hours,* which is way more than you need for this story. Or, if you write by hand, you can still scratch out 2300 words in the same amount of time.
Don’t let a single excuse stop you—because I already know you've got it in you.
In 24 hours, you will be a writer who finishes.
Step One: The Setup
Go read How to Write a Great Story (And Know It’s Great)—which explains the straightforward trick to writing a story that actually works. This will put your storytelling skills in focus and hone in on what’s important in your story.
If possible, quick-plan your story before the actual writing day starts. Don’t overthink this part. Grab some index cards and plot out these three scenes:
The first problem. This is the first threat that something’s going to go wrong. Make it clear that this threat is only the beginning of problems. I call this the Promised Disaster, and it’s the best trick to create suspense—learn more about this technique in this post.
How the protagonist deals with it. This is their main plan to solve the story problem, forcing them to step out of their comfort zone. And no matter how good their plan is, don’t forget to consider how much it costs them. It needs to cost them dearly.
The climax. The climax is the moment where the protagonist and the antagonist (along with the promised disaster) reach an impasse. It’s the moment that either the protagonist loses or the story problem gets resolved. This scene will likely change by the time you write it, but it’s helpful to establish a target anyway.
Step Two: Write It
Eat a good breakfast, drain your energizing drink of choice—coffee, tea, kombucha, whatever—and start writing.
Don’t think it. Feel it. Really put yourself in the scene.
Use all five senses to create emotion, tension, realism. Don’t only write what the character thinks. Tell us what they smell, what they touch, what they hear.
When you describe the visuals, write it in order of what your eye sees first. If your character enters a room, follow their eyes and write descriptions in that order.
If you get stuck, take a walk.
If you write yourself into a corner and you can’t get your protagonist out, resist the urge to throw in a deus ex machina. Instead, take a deep breath, step back for a moment and remind yourself that your hero is smarter than you are. Their plot escape will blow your mind.
Take another walk.
Don’t worry about the word count. Length isn’t important. All you need is a beginning, a middle, and an end. Once you have that, you’re done, no matter how many words there are.
If you burn out and can’t write another word, take a break for a couple of hours and make a mood board. This will let you rest your brain without losing steam, and it will give you fresh ideas when you step back into your narrative.
In my experience, housework can be incredibly refreshing after writing. Run a load of laundry, do the dishes, vacuum the living room.
If the sun goes down before you finish, turn on a light so you don’t strain your eyes.
Don’t give up. It’s just one day of pushing yourself hard. Not a month, not a week, just one day. You can absolutely handle this.
Step Three: Walk Away
Save it, shut your computer off, and forget that you’re a writer for a week.
Do NOT touch that story until it’s the same day of the week again.
You just pushed yourself to the max for a full day. Don’t strain any further.
Do anything but writing for a week. Don’t edit your story, don’t read it, don’t think about it.
The Final Step: Polish and Save
Print your story out, double-spaced, and read it with a red pen in your hand. Mark it up.
Do a couple of editing passes—focus on story first, grammar later.
Delete every word that doesn’t advance the plot or the characters.
Cut out useless or on-the-nose dialogue and replace it with action.
Remove 90% of the adverbs and replace them with power verbs.
Give it to a trusted friend and beg them for honest feedback—not just for what didn’t work, but also what did.
Hit save and print out the final version. You’re done!
You just finished a story.
You deserve a lemonade.
I think you already know this project wasn’t about crafting a masterpiece, or even writing a great story. This was about doing what it takes to finish something ... and you did it!
When you finish a story, your brain flips a switch. The old mindset begins to fade. You can no longer say, “I never finish anything,” because you’ve already proved yourself wrong.
Believe it or not, you actually unlocked the ability to write a novel.
When you rewire your mind to complete a story without critiquing it to death, it’s only a matter of time before you finish a longer project.
I’d encourage you to repeat this process often. The more stories you finish, the more confidence you’ll build. You’ll stop thinking of yourself as a writer—and start calling yourself an author. You’ll collect a repertoire of stories to prove it. You’ll open doors for paid writing gigs, publishing opportunities, blogging expertise.
All from one insanely hard day of work.