The Art of Finishing

By Liz, doing my best to embrace the chilly weather here in the northeast

I just finished Witch Way Out, the third book in the Full Moon Mysteries (yay!). As most authors do, I love finishing a book. I feel so free. Well, for about a day, before I start the next one. 

But also I hate finishing books, in the literal sense. Like, the actual last few chapters are the worst part for me. Almost worse than the slog through the middle. 

I’m not sure why it’s that way. I usually have a decent idea of what the ending is going to be while I’m writing, although it’s a little more foggy than the rest of it. But for some reason, the end is always the part that’s never quite there, usually until the rest of the book has been written and edited a couple of times. Which can be kind of frustrating, because I see other writers talk about that sense of completion when they finish a first draft, before they jump into editing and I have LITERALLY never had that. It’s like one big continuation of editing and trying to finish and I always end up feeling like I’m doing it wrong.  

I have gotten better with that last part. Somewhere along the way I accepted that my process is my process, and it’s okay. Everyone’s process is different, and one is not better than another as long it eventually gets written. I’m not actually looking to change it anymore—and trust me, I spent a lot of time trying to change it in the past. No, I’m talking about the part when the rest of the book has been edited to death, and the only thing left are the final couple of scenes…and I just keep putting it off.

I’ve thought a lot about this. Part of it is that I’m a recovering procrastinator, still trying to embrace those tasks that are harder than others. Someone also suggested once that there may be a bit of not actually wanting to finish the book because then it’s over and there’s some fear of what’s next. Mostly, though, I think it’s a constant worry that I won’t get the end quite right and it’s clearly a pivotal part of the book. 

I know intellectually that this is silly. I mean, I just turned in my sixteenth book, so I must know how to write…right? 

In addition to being a recovering procrastinator, I guess you could say I’m also a recovering perfectionist. I know how damaging it is to worry so much about getting things perfect that the thing never actually gets anywhere. I’m making a concerted effort to notice when I do this and, well, stop. The first step to recovery is being aware there’s a problem, I’ve heard. 

So I recently put up a reminder above my desk with Sheryl Sandberg’s quote “Done is better than perfect.” It’s a daily nudge that tells me to just get somewhere, because somewhere is definitely better than nowhere—and much easier to fix.

Readers, do you suffer from perfectionism? How do you combat it? Leave a comment below.

26 Thoughts

  1. I’m not sure what I suffer from could be called perfectionism. When I write my reviews of books, CDs/cassettes or concerts, I won’t post or send them in to be posted unless I’m satisfied with the writing. However, since I’m not an expert when it comes to the “rules” of writing, I write in my own (lack of) style.

    I mean, I do try to get things right of course but I freely acknowledge that I probably don’t always get it right. And since I only have a professional editor for the book reviews that I write for Mystery Scene, I’m okay with that. As long as I am happy with the work, I’m able to get past any inborn need for “perfection”.

  2. I keep in mind “excellence” is a worthy goal, but “perfection” is an unattainable state. That Jedi mind trick keeps from laboring too long on one section. Another technique is to see how the story plays out when read through the lens of different layouts: Scrivener, ProWritingAid, Aeon Timeline, and computer voice playback. Amazing how those different views bring to the surface whatever needs to change for me to feel comfortable.

    My last and most important technique is choosing to have fun instead of striving for the unattainable. That wins (most times LOL).

    1. I love the point about fun. I’ve been trying to remind myself to just have fun with something and not put so much %$#* pressure on it!

  3. Congratulations on finishing, Liz! I’m not a perfectionist, but I sure can procrastinate on tasks I don’t want to do. Sometimes for years!

  4. I’m less of a perfectionist the older I get lol! But I was raised with
    the motto: “if you’re going to do a job, do it the very best you can!” so it’s always been ingrained.

    As far as finishing is concerned, I’ve always wondered if authors began their books knowing “whodunit” or if that changes after they’ve begun writing?

    1. Kathy, that was definitely ingrained in me too. As for your question, I can only answer for me and I always think I know – but sometimes it changes. it’s only happened once or twice, but yeah I have had to go back and revise after I realized I had the wrong killer!

  5. Can’t wait to explore the pages of “Witch Way Out”.

    Think I use to be a perfectionist. Kind of an inherited trait from my Mom. She was one where things had to be in their own space, things done a particular day and everything was spotless. Then Mom had a brain aneurysm. Thankfully by being part of an experimental drug the 10% survival ended with full recovery with little after affects. But Mom changed. She was more relaxed accepting things as they came. Seeing the way Mom seemed to start to enjoy life more made me take a second look at myself. Mom’s been gone for many years, but I feel I am still learning from her example. I know I’m glad that the perfectionist in me learned to live life and be more of a go with the flow senior citizen I am now.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

  6. Congratulation on finishing your book. Look forward to reading it.
    I’m definitely not a perfectionist. I believe mishaps makes an item unique.

  7. Yay! Another book finished. I’ve heard that most procrastinators are perfectionists which I find fascinating. I’m a great procrastinator but haven’t ever considered myself a perfectionist.

  8. We are all so different. Generally in life I’m a great finisher. If I start something, I am going to finish it. I’m not one to have a lot of unfinished projects sitting around–be it crafts, or clearing out, or reading or writing. However, can I put off starting something? You bet I can. Forever in some cases.

  9. I’m like you, Barb. I’m great at finishing things, but terrible at starting them. Generally I find that once I get started, most things are really easier than I have let them build up in my mind. As far as perfectionism is concerned, I’m still working on that. My mother always told me, “Good enough is not good enough.” And that meant that I never was good enough at anything I did. So, at 71, I’m still trying to prove I’m good enough at anything. Very frustrating, since I’ve achieved so many things, won so many awards, proven I can overcome all kinds of difficult obstacles, both mental and physical. I hate perfectionism. But I doubt I will change much at this point in my life. I really do try, but I’m not good enough to succeed. 🙂

  10. I can be a perfectionist at times, but I suffer more from “good enough.” This is good enough. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Just move on to something else.

    I think it comes from being a lazy procrastinator.

  11. I used to really follow into the perfection way of life before I became disabled. I am working on learning that there is nothing perfect this side of heaven. All I can do is my best. Thank you for sharing. God bless you.

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