I'm No Longer Afraid of Half-Finished Stories

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Like a half-eaten sandwich, half-finished stories used to pose as a problem. Much like the sandwich that slowly goes soggy thanks to a generous amount of mustard and mayo, I wonder to myself if I really want to keep around a half-finished story. 

It wasn't until this past year that I came to embrace the idea of accepting a story that didn't have an ending. It all started thanks to this one mannequin story that I wrote without an ending. It had been years since I had worked on it, and suddenly, this fresh perspective came in. I discovered my ending, and I never thought I'd get to that point with this story.

Prior to this experience, I used to feel bad for not finishing. I felt like I had failed and somehow, felt like I was less of a writer because I couldn't get to the ending. Granted, I write short stories which is an entirely different experience than writing a novel. Not without its problems, but it's far different having a half-finished 16-page story than a half-finished 500-page novel.

I remember this advice once that said if you desire to return to a story that you couldn't complete that you should start fresh. This advice said to not try and go back and continue where you left off because you just want to capture that same momentum.

To a point, I agree. Except I have realized lately that my instincts sometimes were right before. I realized I did know the ending but somehow didn't see it or doubted myself.

Earlier this year, I had an idea for a company sponsoring an executive trip with a health and wellness spa that turns out to have dangerous ulterior motives. Well, it didn't have an ending, and I stopped at a certain point. This time, I didn't let it get me down. I moved on. I didn't fret or fight with the story. Instead, I accepted that this was as far as I could get and moved on. Since I've finished 3 more stories. 
Turns out, I trust that my future self may see something in this that I didn't. I saw some things in stories written years ago that my past self didn't see, and I expect I'll have this experience again.

Don't be afraid of half-finished work. Unlike a soggy half-eaten sandwich, it can be saved for years without getting moldy. 



Jeanine DeHoney said...

Nicole, I too used to get frustrated about not finishing a story and getting to the ending as fast as I wanted to. Almost always though once I put it down for awhile, sometimes weeks, and worked on other things I'd usually get an idea that led to me finishing it. So yes, I agree, there's nothing to be afraid of when it comes to unfinished manuscripts. Great post.

Angela Mackintosh said...

I have so many half-finished essays, Nicole! I started writing a fictional story for the first time in years during NaNo. Although I did envision the ending first, and the beginning was easy. It's just the middle details that eluded me, but I trust they will be worked out. I also understand where that advice is coming from, and it is hard to catch that initial momentum or voice, but it's not impossible.

Your story idea is awesome! Two movies you might check out for inspiration: "A Cure for Wellness" (has the similar concept of going on a retreat to a wellness center that's not all that it seems), and "Rebirth" (a weekend renewal seminar that goes down a weird rabbit hole). Neither of these movies are great, but they may give you ideas!

And you're right to trust your future self; time and distance can help solve story problems. :)

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

I assumed that all writers were okay with story beginnings, half finished stories and other incomplete works. I've got dozens. I can to back to them between other projects, I can combine them, or I can pull a character or phrase that I love and use it in something else.

Cathy C. Hall said...

I think it's probably better to leave a story to sit than force an ending just for the sake of having an ending. I've written plenty of (bad) stories that have lousy endings. (And I never get back to them because they're "finished.")

Renee Roberson said...

I'm not as prolific as you in writing short stories, Nicole, but I have the problem of writing stories and a few novels and then doing absolutely nothing with them! We all have our mental blocks when it comes to writing but I'm glad to hear you aren't going to let this stop you from creating new things! And I do love the idea about the health and wellness retreat! Sounds like an idea for a streaming series to me, LOL!

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