Unfinished Projects

                                                    Are You Done Yet?
                                                            By Jeff Salter 

            I’m a champion of unfinished projects … and I admit that with considerable embarrassment.  They’ve covered a range from studies, reports, statistics, and correspondence … to assembling purchased items and performing other ‘home handyman’ tasks.  I blame it mostly on procrastination, which (in turn) I blame on genetics … because that’s easier than owning up to one’s own flaws.
            In much younger years, I was a photo-journalist and editor — for several different newspapers or newsletters.  Having deadlines – whether daily, weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly – gave me sufficient external structure to get things done.  Of course, I also had a lot more energy and focus and drive … back then.
            Were there other mitigating circumstances?  Certainly.  But this is neither the time nor place to detail such.
            Today’s emphasis is on novels.  My writing specialties had – for decades – been poetry, articles, reviews, and a few short stories — I never imagined I’d ever be inspired to write a novel.  So I was additionally apprehensive about starting a novel since I had serious doubts whether I could ever finish writing it.  But I did:  both start and finish.  Oh, it was pretty weak … but I completed it and revised it several times.  [I’ve since overhauled it so completely that the new rendition uses only the characters and about one-third of the original’s plot … plus a different emphasis and new title.]
            Yeah, I was quite surprised to get all the way through that first manuscript.  Despite its many flaws, that story was complete!  It was a wonderful feeling.  You see, quality comparisons aside, I was painfully aware that a vast number of aspiring fiction writers spend years and years working on a first novel … and NEVER complete it.  With my (recent) record in all those different unfinished projects, I feared the same thing might happen to me.  Since “writing full time” was one of several reasons I took an early retirement, it would have been excruciating had I not been able to complete that first book.  But I did!
            Then, of course, I began to wonder if there was a second book inside me.  Well, yes — there was.  And, while somewhat ‘immature’ in itself, that second manuscript was better writing than the first.  And there was even a third — which was considerably better written than the first two.
            It was after my third completed novel that I reached some sort of inner peace that I had ‘arrived’ as a writer.  None were published yet, of course.  The second title was bumping around the contest circuit and garnered a perfect score from one judge in one contest!  [Other scores, however, were far from perfect!]
            Then I had a 14-month dry spell.  Oh, I don’t mean I wasn’t writing anything, because I wrote some family history and had ‘starts’ on eight other novels (since beginning that third one).  But I wasn’t working on the revisions to my third novel … which, I believed, had the most potential for publication.
            So I began worrying again.  You know, about that dark procrastinating cloud of not being able to finish something.  Then, one Saturday, instead of doing what I had planned … I pulled out that third novel and begin my re-writes.  During the next three months, I completely overhauled that dude.  [My beta readers tell me it’s a hit, but I realize I still have to shorten (and speed-up) the first quarter of the manuscript before I can submit it anywhere.]
            After that third novel was overhauled, I experienced an incredible period of output:  four more complete novels in the following 24 months!  And during that same two years, I had nearly 50 OTHER ‘starts’.

 Breakdown
            Now, I realize I need to define my terms here, so here’s the breakdown.  Beginning in November of 2006 … and through April of 2012 – which is 5.5 years – I have logged-in 75 novel ‘starts’.
*          Completed:  7 (or 8 … if you count the first, parts of which were used in a very different novel)
*          Considerable progress:  2 — one with nearly 16,000 words (plus some 20 pages of handwritten notes) … the other with 23,000 words (plus notes).
*          Progress:  9 — ranging from 2800+ words to 8900 words (average of about 4500)
*          Initial work:  21
                        15 with word counts ranging from 200 to 1300 words (average of about 860)
                        6 with several pages of hand-written notes (but nothing typed)
*          Concept only:  35 —
                        23 have one or two pages of handwritten notes
                        12 are literally only a concept
Note:  28 of these 75 starts don’t even have titles!

 Dilemma
            So, what do I work on after I finish proofing the galleys for Novel # 7 (the first to be published)?  Do I go back to Ms. # 3 and streamline those initial 100 pages so I can submit it?  Or do I dip back into the story with 16,000 words which literally begs to be finished?  Or, do I get that little 5300 jewel from the ‘progress’ pile – started 28 months ago – which I think would be favorably received by a small publisher?
            Or … start something completely new?

Question:
            How do you keep track of your ‘starts’ … or concepts?

About Jeff Salter

Currently writing romantic comedy, screwball comedy, and romantic suspense. Fourteen completed novels and four completed novellas. Working with three royalty publishers: Clean Reads, Dingbat Publishing, & TouchPoint Press/Romance. "Cowboy Out of Time" -- Apr. 2019 /// "Double Down Trouble" -- June 2018 /// "Not Easy Being Android" -- Feb. 2018 /// "Size Matters" -- Oct. 2016 /// "The Duchess of Earl" -- Jul. 2016 /// "Stuck on Cloud Eight" -- Nov. 2015 /// "Pleased to Meet Me" (novella) -- Oct. 2015 /// "One Simple Favor" (novella) -- May 2015 /// "The Ghostess & MISTER Muir" -- Oct. 2014 /// "Scratching the Seven-Month Itch" -- Sept. 2014 /// "Hid Wounded Reb" -- Aug. 2014 /// "Don't Bet On It" (novella) -- April 2014 /// "Curing the Uncommon Man-Cold -- Dec. 2013 /// "Echo Taps" (novella) -- June 2013 /// "Called To Arms Again" -- (a tribute to the greatest generation) -- May 2013 /// "Rescued By That New Guy in Town" -- Oct. 2012 /// "The Overnighter's Secrets" -- May 2012 /// Co-authored two non-fiction books about librarianship (with a royalty publisher), a chapter in another book, and an article in a specialty encyclopedia. Plus several library-related articles and reviews. Also published some 120 poems, about 150 bylined newspaper articles, and some 100 bylined photos. Worked about 30 years in librarianship. Formerly newspaper editor and photo-journalist. Decorated veteran of U.S. Air Force (including a remote ‘tour’ of duty in the Arctic … at Thule AB in N.W. Greenland). Married; father of two; grandfather of six.
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31 Responses to Unfinished Projects

  1. My advice, for what it’s worth…when it comes to anything creative, don’t go with your head; go with your heart…what story seeps into your thoughts? What plot or characters come to mind when you are thinking of something else?
    The book ‘If They Ask You , You Can Write a Song’ is what brought me out of my shell,writing-wise. It was written by songwriters Al Kasha and Joel Hirshhorn. Yep,I started out as a lyricist and have a 30+ yr pld award to prove it but I’d recommend the book to anyone.One chapter is entitled
    ‘ Rewriting- The Trademark of a Professional’. (Their song,”Why Must There Be a Morning After ” was re-worked into the huge Academy Award-winning, “There’s Got to Be a Morning After”).
    Stephen King, who really can write well and write good stories ,admits to selling out and giving people the gore and terror they buy, knows that he sold out and has been lucky…who can judge? But even he will tell you to “Kill your darlings”.

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      Yes, Tonette, I agree: go with the heart. In fact, exactly 12 months ago, when I was fully pumped up to dive back into my 3rd novel ms. — to re-work & condense that long beginning — was when a friend showed me the contents of a little antique suitcase. Sifting through those mementoes of (who we later learned was) a silent movie actress just took over my heart. And thus, “The Overnighter’s Secrets” was born. Delaying my work on that third manuscript’s beginning by another full year!
      I have to believe that there will be a ‘right’ time for that third novel … because it’s so important: a tribute to the Greatest Generation. And it’s also got humor, romance, and action!

      Like

  2. My stories live in my head – ongoing little communities – because they’re “born” as fully formed stories rather like memories as though the events have actually already happened and all I have to do is put them on paper. So even the ones that are technically unfinished because they aren’t fully written out have run their course in my memory world.

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    • jeff7salter says:

      Glad you could visit today, Kay.
      Wow, I’m sincerely impressed by your memory.
      Years ago, I had a very sharp mind and nearly total recall. These days … not so much. In fact, yesterday, as I was going over my ‘starts’ to get a current tally (for this article), I found that I didn’t even remember some of the pages I was looking at, in my own handwriting! Good thing I didn’t rely on *MY* memory for those stories!

      Like

  3. Sherry Gloag says:

    Great post,Jeff. Sadly procrastination is also in my genes. 😦 Given your choices I’d be tempted to use a pendulum!! LOL. Seriously, read the first chapter of everything you are considering and then choose the one that grabs you the most strongly. It may net be a fool-proof method of chosing but it’s a start.

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    • jeff7salter says:

      Thanks, Sherry. I’m glad to have scientific confirmation that the procrastination gene actually exists! Ha.
      Interesting that you’d mention “first chapters.”
      In the first couple of years of my — fairly short (5.5 years) novel-writing experience — I would come up with SCENES or PLOTS … and wrote notes on those. Then when it came time to give it a compelling BEGINNING, I usually had to struggle terribly to “get into” that very nice scene or plot. [I also formerly wrote with no regard to POV … but that’s a completely diff. story!]
      Anyhow, I trained myself to begin thinking of my novel ideas — mostly — from the standpoint of a hook that might interest an agent (or publisher or editor) … and an opening scene which would COMPEL the reader to keep reading. When I’ve approched it that way, the rest of the stuff has seemed (so far) to come together.
      In fact, that’s one of the big issues with this 3rd novel I keep yakking about: It does not have a good beginning. Notyet, anyway.

      Like

  4. Don’t we all procrastinate on these big projects? I finished up novel #4 recently. (#1– will be published by Astraea Press, #2–will never see the light of day, #3 is completed and has received beta comments, but needs a good reworking to be really ready, #4 is my ultimate favorite–recently finished and is with my agent. Now I opened a clean page to start #5–the sequel to #4. AND. IT’S. HARD! I know the story but can’t seem to get writing. That’s because I gave myself a few weeks off to organize. EEK! Bad idea on my part. If I stop, it takes a huge push to get going again. As for other ideas, I keep them in a folder with notes–if I have any– or titles or a single written line. I’m the type that likes to complete a project before I really hop into another. Maybe I’m just weird that way! 🙂 Great post, Jeff.

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      Thanks, Jessie. And congrats on finishing your 4th novel! When you think of all the people who talk about “writing a book” but never even complete a single one … it’s a comfort to those of us who have produced more than one complete manuscript.
      Yeah, when I take a break … it’s hard to get back on that horse.

      Like

  5. The bottom line is that there isn’t any one thing you should do. It’s not about the shoulds, it’s about what talks to you. You didn’t start your re-writes because it was a should- you already had shoulds on your list of to-dos, but your manuscript talked to you. Have faith, your next project will do the talking as well.

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    • jeff7salter says:

      I agree completely, Stacey. In fact, that ‘start’ (mentioned above) with 16k words and 20 pages of notes … is the one I had PLANNED to continue working on in Aug. 2009. But my 4th novel jumped in front of the line. Which led to the 5th (a prequel to the 4th) … and then to the 6th & 7th. Before I knew it, 24 months had elapsed and I had four MORE completed novels. I hate to think what might have happened if I had doggedly stuck to that 16k WIP … instead of letting the muse direct me.

      Like

  6. Tonya Kappes says:

    I think you have to look at what is nagging you the most and listen to your inner gut. That is your muse telling you what needs to get done.

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  7. Laurie Ryan says:

    I agree with Tonette. Work on what your heart wants you to. It will show in the pages. 🙂 Sounds like you have a lot to select from. 🙂

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    • jeff7salter says:

      Thanks, Laurie. I agree that it will show in the pages.
      And having several to choose from means if one goes stale, I don’t have to FORCE it … I can just let it rest and work on something else.

      Like

  8. YIKES! I ran screaming from the room. I could totally NOT deal with that. I’d be in the corner sucking my thumb and rocking back and forth. Jeff, Jeff, Jeff, how can you live knowing you have all those partial things hanging about? EEK!!

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      It is EXTREMELY frustrating at times, Jillian — to have parts of several stories in my head at the same time … yet not enough hours or energy to get them all on paper.
      So, like any other HOUND, I bury bones all over the place … and soon forget where I buried them!

      Like

  9. Tracy Krauss says:

    Wow! And I thought I had a lot of things started … I currently have four novels published, 2 finished but needing revision, 3 that are well on their way but not finished and maybe 10 more that aren’t much beyond concepts – maybe a page or two as you said. Hardly close to your whopping 75!
    My advice, which echoes Tonette and Laurie, is to work on what you feel inspired to write at the moment. You might even work on the two mentioned simultaneously. (I do this all the time – when I get stuck or tired of one I just switch it up)

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      Thanks for visiting, Tracy.
      I pretty much find it impossible to work on two at the same time. If one story jumps in front of another, I go with the second one … and ride it until I’m finished (or until another jumps in front of it).
      I usually have a lot of characters, so it’s too much to keep in my head … to work on more than one at a time.
      I don’t know how you’re able to do so. You must be a prodigy!

      Like

  10. lisa orchard says:

    I know you feel that you procrastinate but I see it differently. Look at all the projects you have to choose from! Look at all the seeds you have sown. Now all you have to do is finish and tweak and you’re on your way! 🙂

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      Thanks, Lisa. Well, there were numerous reasons I didn’t get back to that 3rd ms. for 14 months. One of the primary characters was inspired by my father-in-law, who was in the hospital dying in the last couple of weeks that I worked on the first draft. The story is a tribute to the Greatest Generation and it personally honored him. Yet he never got to read it. I think that hit me so hard that I just couldn’t get back to the ms. for over a year.

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  11. If I don’t finish them it’s because my heart wasn’t in them. I always try something new.

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      I think that’s a good philosophy,Elaine. If we try to work on something our heart is not in, then it won’t likely have that ‘spark’.
      However, I spent several years in journalism, where I learned to crank out stories even for events or people or circumstances which I cared little about. Probably not among my best work, of course. The big challenge was to find an angle which could excite me (at least a little).

      Like

  12. Lindsay says:

    I think I’ve only got 2-3 projects at some level of incompletetion. In the past year or so, when I get a story idea I’ll put it in a folder on my computer with the first page or two. As I finish one story and let it sit before doing edits I’ll pick one of the partially started one and work on it. It seems to work for me and I don’t leave a story to languish for long.

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      I admire anyone who can do as you do, Lindsay. I find that my brain can’t yet cope with a new project, while the remnants of another are still rattling around.

      Like

  13. Jeanne Theunissen says:

    I admire anyone who has the imagination to create characters, make them come alive, and give them an actual life. I actually sometimes envy them a little, because I have never been able to do it. I’m good at finding errors and plot holes in other people’s works, but have never been able to come up with anything on my own. I don’t know that maybe my (not-so-secret now) envy is part of what makes me a good proof reader. What could be negative energy in tearing down the work of others (since I feel myself incapable of achieving what they have achieved), I have channelled into the positive energy of diligently looking for errors and correcting them to make a good story the best it can possibly be.

    I’ve known Kay for 40+ years (since the day she sat down next to me in 9th grade Biology class) and it still amazes me how she comes up with all these stories fully formed. (And yes, she was writing even way back then.) What amazes me even more is how she can keep this population in her head in line and make them wait their turn. She’s admitted to me, however, that sometimes certain characters will start screaming so loudly that she can’t ignore them, and HAS to release them onto paper–well, into the computer, anyway.

    Apparently, ideas come in many shapes and forms. Some people (like Kay) get a complete story from beginning to end; know all the characters, where they’re coming from, where they’re going, and how they get there. Others just have scenes that pop up here and there, write them down, and then oraganise them somehow into a complete story. I suppose muses are like people; no two are exactly alike.

    I’ve heard that one of the most classic novels ever started out when a professor who, in a moment of boredom, doodled a sentence on a piece of paper: “In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit.” Of course, this famous professor didn’t just “write a story.” He created a whole world, including different races with different languages (which he also created), and gave amazing descriptions of their homes, their lives, their cultures, their interactions with each other, and even their history! True genius!

    Now, as you have seen by now, I may not be able to write stories, but I’m definitely good at rambling, though I’m not sure that’s a positive thing.

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      that wasn’t rambling … it was extolling. Completely different!
      Thanks for visiting Jeanne. And for commenting. I hope you’ll return often.
      I’m the Thursday Hound and any other weekday, you’ll find a Resident Fox here.
      Though I cannot claim to have ever had any of my novels — not so far, at least — “fully formed” in my head before I’ve begun writing, I HAVE had poems come to me that way.
      Poetry was my primary writing outlet for most of my productive life … and, indeed, what I THOUGHT I’d be doing right now. But, somehow I became infected with the NOVEL VIRUS … and here I am juggling characters, straining with POV, copying with plot arcs, and subjecting myself to innumerable rounds of pre-edits, content edits, line edits, proofs, galleys and what-nots.
      I got side-tracked — see, I ramble also. What I was saying is that of the 1000 or so poems I’ve written [incl. the 120+ which have been published and some 3 dozen which have won awards] … some have “come to me” nearly fully-formed. Oh, I’ve tweaked and polished, of course. But I’ve always thought that was nearly a magical experience!

      Like

      • Jeanne Theunissen says:

        I usually have to let ideas for any project, be it writing letters, court affidavits (which I’ve had to do much more of than I would like lately, but that’s a long story) or even embroidery projects “simmer” and “stew” for awhile before they fully take shape into any coherent form. The “simmering” process can take anywhere from an hour or so to several months, or in some cases, years. Just depends on my interest level in completing the task, it’s importance, and the level of perfection I want to achieve. Not to mention its priority in relation to the other aspects of my life at any given time.

        Like

      • jeff7salter says:

        Yeah, a project’s priority certainly shapes where it is on my looonnnggg “to-do” list.
        Of course, ‘priority’ is a very relative matter. Ha.

        Like

  14. Jeanne Theunissen says:

    And yes, I just noticed the apostrophe in “it’s importance.” Some proof reader I am sometimes!

    Like

  15. Oh, this is a tough one and one you have to answer for yourself. To answer your question, I don’t. I actually published my third MS first and the first became the second in the series. Then I added two short stories to the mix before working on edits for what will now be the third. (confused? I am. LOL) I have no idea. It just worked. LOL When I start trying to figure it all out, I get completely lost and come to a standstill where the writing is concerned. The more projects I have going, the happier I am so I let the creativity flow and just try to keep up. I agree, listen to your heart and you won’t go wrong. 🙂

    Like

    • jeff7salter says:

      Yes, Melissa, I agree — go with your heart.
      Plus, in your case, you can’t argue with success. If you’ve already published and have more in the works … just go with that flow. Since it’s working for you.
      Thanks for visiting again.

      Like

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