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I can never finish anything

I've been writing since I was a little kid and my Mum can remember, when I was about 8, I'd hand her stories of 40,000 words. She'd read them but there would be no ending. I'd get 50% or 75% of the way through and just lose all motivation. Sometimes she'd just chapter 1-3 chapters and nothing more. I've been writing for 20 yeas and never completed anything and it's only become more difficult the older I've be come. Apart from one short-story I've not been able to write anything else in 3 years. I think of an idea, but the motivation to write it fizzles out somewhere in the planning stage and I struggle to write at all with out something of a plan. I've tried taking breaks. I don't know why this happens to me.
I've tried pushing through but it's not enjoyable because the interest in that idea has gone. It's hard to write something you're not interested in anymore. I've tried quitting writing and always get an idea that has to be written, only to lose interest weeks later. Anyone have any advice for getting over this?
Thank you.


This really strikes a chord with me. I too have been giving my Mum my writing for years and years, since I was a little kid, and nothing is ever finished. I have been writing since before I can remember and the first thing I ever finished was a novella, 50-60k words, only last year. The second thing I finished was a shorter story this year. They both took me two or three years to finish.

I know you say you don't like pantsing it, but have you tried just writing? Get an idea and start writing straight away while it's fresh and see what comes out. I think so many people get bored of their stories because they are meticulously planned. If you spend long enough on the planning stage the writing becomes inorganic. By the time you actually write it feels like you're just writing someone else's story for them.
This was me for years - endlessly writing myself into a corner - until it finally occurred to me that you don't have to write the whole thing out from beginning to end in perfect prose.

It occurred to me that I could just write out the plot in point form and that's when I finally wrote a novel.

It was terrible, but it was still a coherent piece of work and it was finished.

Thing was...writing that first novel taught me so much about writing. My second effort was MUCH better.

My third effort was commercially published.

Eduardo Letavia

I started writing late, in my thirties, but I've managed to finish most of the stories (always short ones) that I've begun... But that was some time ago. I've been stalled in my writing mostly due to be kind of obsessed with one concept that I've wanted to develop in a novel. ¿The problem? The concept, the idea is good but, until recently, I didn't really knew where I wanted to go with it. Now, although there are things that I have to define yet (meaning that I need to do some more worldbuilding!), at last I've got a sense of where I want to end the novel and where I could go from there onwards in future related fictions. I've been a long time with the idea in my head, and sure there have been moments that I've tempted to throw it away, but patience, investigation and some (to be honest, a lot of) thinking rewarded me eventually with a possible solution (aka, ending) for my story.

So, what I mean to tell you Darkfantasy with all this is, instead of dragging ideas through the mud of aimless fictions, think first about where you want to go with them. I find pantsing, as jacksimmons has called it before, a style of writing that only works for your own worldbuilding. Readers expect a proper ending to the story you're telling them: a punch line, a cliffhanger, a conclusion (no matter how open it can be) that gives some sense of purpose or meaning to the fiction you're telling them. If you don't know where and how your story will end, you might very well end finding yourself writing some sort of ficticious travel guide or a mere relation of events rather than a proper story. This, eventually dries up your interest in the idea because you're not really using it build your story, it just becomes some sort of MacGuffin (like in so many action or adventure movies, for example) or excuse to start a story but not to keep working on it.

I tend to imagine fiction writing to be an art similar to sculpting: an idea and everything that surrounds it (documentation, worldbuilding, etc) is the marble that inspires us to create a fiction, but from that stone we have to extract the concrete story. Carving the concept aimlessly can give you practice, beautiful shapes, and even inspiration for another fictions, but you'll turn that marble into an abstraction that probably not even you can understand (or find interesting). Thankfully, and unlike in sculpting, you can always go back to the original marble and carve it again, although usually you'll need some time and distance to refill you interest in the idea.


toujours gai, archie
For me it was motivation. All those earlier stories were unfinished (and remain unfinished) because I lacked the motivation to finish them. If I can get bored with a story (we all get bored with our stories at some or several points) and walk away without consequences, then that's going to happen. Every time.

In the old days, many writers had deadlines. Finish it or you don't get paid. Pretty straightforward. It's very difficult fo find such a gig now.

My motivation came from me getting old. I was in my late 50s, starting to look seriously at looming retirement. I had been writing my whole life, though for many years it was non-fiction. But there was always some story, in notes and fragments scattered across multiple notebooks.

A realization grew, and it came on rather quickly, that if I was ever going to get a novel written, I had to get on with it. Without being too morbid about it, I began to realize it was a literal deadline. Do or die.

The real point is that I knew I had to get all the way to done. Click the Publish button. And that turned out to be a profound turning point. I've published something every year since then, either a novel or getting a short story accepted somewhere.

I still get bored. I still despair that the current story won't be very good. But I still keep writing because none of it matters until people read it, and they can't read it until it's done.

My parents never read anything I wrote. They never took an incomplete work and praised me for it. Sometimes I think they did me a favor.
Thanks for the advice so far. Yes, I have tried pantstering a novel and I got further with it. But because I'd just written as I went I couldn't come up with an ending. So I took a break with the intention of coming back, reading it and sorting out how it ended. This was years ago, and the pendrive I used had broken. So I lost the entire thing. I couldn't bare to start it again. Couldn't remember enough of it. 80,000 words, plus all my notes - gone. Think that's happened to every writer just about.


Article Team
I've tried pushing through but it's not enjoyable because the interest in that idea has gone.
Perhaps I'm reading too much into this sentence, but have you tried focusing on the character instead of the idea?

I've been working on my story for about three years, and I've got at least two more before it's finished. I've had the entire things outlined since the early days, so I know where it's going and what's going to happen - book by book and chapter by chapter. The idea is pretty old to me, and it wasn't all that interesting to begin with.
Now, what gets me excited is seeing how my characters react as they experience the scenes I've laid out for them. Their experiences shape who they are, and I'm constantly peeling back new layers. That's exciting to me, and that excitement doesn't go away just because I know how the story ends.

Also, sometimes, my character surprise me and the outline needs to be adjusted.
My main interest is the characters and their journey - it's creating a plot to go with them that I'm not so good at.

I love the characters I create and the ideas around them but I struggle to put them in an idea I really like.


Myth Weaver
Stall points in writing a novel:

1 - the first page. Daring to express your idea in words can be daunting. The words don't match the vision.

2 - the first chapter - or call it 2000-3000 words. Story is started, but there is so much more to go.

3 - Chapter 3-4 - or about 10,000 words in, give or take. The tale is launched, but where to go now?

4 - 30,000-35,000 words in - aka the 'muddy middle.' Plot and characters alike seem lost in a vast swamp with no exits.

5 - Almost there - 90%+ mark or 'just a few more chapters.' Gets real rough at this point

Outlining and focused thought can help some with stall-points 3&4. The best solution, though is to keep on writing - plow past the issue, be it an unworkable character or ludicrous plot solution. In the past, I have set up a timer - 30 minutes - during which period I write. Even if I know it's bad, I write. Write every day if possible, even if it's just a few hundred words, even if you think it's tripe. Here is the other thing - I have, on occasion revisited projects abandoned for most of two decades. At the time they seemed like meandering failures. Yet, upon rereading...some of them were pretty good.


Article Team
For me, I didn't really start finishing novels until I really started planning. I'm a natural pantser, but like you, I would run out of steam. So, I dove into studying story structure. I've read and continue to read books on it, and over the years, I've pick out bits and pieces from here and there that click for me, and add those pieces to the process I go through.

I went from very little planning to where I plan out the beats of a scene now. To me, it doesn't matter what structures a person uses. It's just a way to organize thoughts and see how everything fits together. For me, outlining is a creative endeavor in itself. It's about finding the right endings, or finding ways to connect the beginning and end. And because I'm organized, when I get new ideas, I can see where they potentially fit within the context of the story, and I can toss them into the appropriate bucket. When I do this, over time as ideas pile up, I can see how much of the story I really have, and I can start filling out the bits that are missing to create a the outline.

For example, given an average scene/chapter length of 2000-2500 words, a 100k novel will have between 40-50 scenes/chapters. Using the three act structure, that means there's around 10 scenes/chapters in the first act, 20 scenes/chapters in the second act, and 10 scenes/chapters in the third act. I won't give you a complete break down of things, but in each act, specific types of things must happen, and once you start filling those things in, those 40-50 scenes start to feel as if they're not enough, at least in the outlining stage.

The outline gives me guide rails, but it never survives intact once I start writing. The outline is its own thing, then the prose is another. It's a constantly evolving puzzle, where I'm trying to get the pieces I created in the outline to fit together. Sometimes they fit perfect. Other times, I have to create new piece so bits can lock together properly.

For me, outlining allows me to figure out the right questions to ask, and I found that its one of the keys to consistently getting to the finish line. If you don't know what to ask, there's little chance of finding the answer.

Any ways, this is what works for me. Take from it what you will or discard it all.
A question to ask yourself first is: Does it actually matter if you never finish anything? While it may sound like a silly question, I think it's not. If you just like playing around with an idea and putting characters into some fun places and have them live through parts of adventures, then there is nothing wrong with that. Just because some people want to write novels doesn't mean you have to. So, allow yourself to just write pieces of stories if that's what you want to do.

On a tangent, but for most of his life, this was actually Tolkien's way of working. He would write snippets of stories, bits here and there. Until he wrote the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings that is. But you can see it in most of his other works out there. They're incomplete. And though, as a fan I wish they weren't, in and of itself there's nothing wrong with that.

Then, think about your process. And try something different. Everyone writes differently. Perhaps writing the exciting bits first and filling in the bits in between works for you. Or perhaps you're the reverse and you have to write an "in between" bit before you let yourself write an exciting chapter as a reward. Try a few things, keep what works and what doesn't.

A few things that worked for me:

Public accountability. Last year, I did NaNoWriMo. And I told my wife I would, I posted it here and on the NaNo forum. Of course, none of that provides a hard deadline. People here and on the NaNo forum are supportive, but they'd probably forgotten I had said I would write it about 5 minutes after I did. And my wife just thinks it's a cute hobby. But, for me it worked to keep me going.

Progress tracking. I keep a spreadsheet with my daily wordcounts. I give myself a target each month and I try to make it. I'm an IT guy, so it's an actual Excel spreadsheet (I'm weird. sorry, can't help it). But it can be anything. This makes the progress more important then the end. I just write about 5 days a week, with the aim to get 600 words a day. I've found that if I just keep doing that, at some point I get to a place where I can type "The End" (after all, 600 X 5 X 52 = 156.000 words a year, which is something between 2 short novels to half an epic fantasy novel).

Keep the end goal in mind. Me, I want to write multiple novels and have people read them. I would love at some point to write full time. That's my end goal. When I get to a place where I don't feel like continuing, I think back to my goal. The only way for me to get people to read my novel is to actually write it.

Of course, this all makes it sound a lot more streamlined than it actually is. There's days when I don't write when I should. I'm very good at procastrinating and sometimes I'm stuck. But overall, there's slow and steady progress.

Miles Lacey

Most of my writing is political propaganda which virtually writes itself. Fiction is much more challenging because there's a lot of plot bunnies that just won't settle plus the memory of a book I self-published that I won't mention which bombed miserably. That failure always lurks in the background, haunting all my fiction.

My advice is to write the ideas that catch your interest, no matter whether or not it ties in with anything. Leave it for a while then come back. You might find that an idea you lost interest in a few years ago might turn out to be worth revisiting.

Another idea is to use a multitude of ideas at the same time and see what happens.
I asked a friend last night to give me a random situation something easy to build off but also something I could relate to that would be hard to write.
He said: "A man coming home from work." (that's what I get for asking for it to be easily buildable)

Off to bed now but when I woke up I'll write it. I wont think about it or worry if it's any good I'll just do it. Maybe 100 words a day and see what happens. Thanks guys x
Lots of good advice but here is some reenforcement:

1. Think of writing like your job: even if you are not interested, you still need to do it. Maybe its 2 hours a day not 8, but you have to write something or you are not doing you job. So write something. I do this and i often find that even if I have lost interest, just forcing myself to write on it anyway, I find a new gem of interest crop up as I go. On the other hand, sometimes its trash and I just throw it away. but... I still did my job and its got me through some patches where I would otherwise have stopped.

2. Don't worry so much about "completion": If you are no longer interested in the idea has gone stale for you, it may be because you have already written enough to explore it to the point of usefulness. Find a way to take what you have already written, and find an end in what is already there. don't worry about how long it is... if not a novel then a novella, if not that, then a short. Just wrap it up and send it out.

3. I do not use a spreadsheet or have any preconceived plan to my stories... different strokes for different folks. But I do find that when I don't know what is coming next, that helps me be interested in my own story. Like I just killed 2 characters in my recent novella and I didn't know I was going do that until it just happened organically in the moment. Surprised the heck out of me! and now I am on to how that falls out for the survivors. I am as interested to know as I hope the reader is!

hope there is some help somewhere in there-


I would suggest setting a deadline and telling someone who will expect it to be done.

i had a friend once who believed in absinth as a way to write to the end. I would suggest it may have varying results ;). She got married and I dont talk to her anymore. Pity. She was a really good writer.
i had a friend once who believed in absinth as a way to write to the end. I would suggest it may have varying results ;). She got married and I dont talk to her anymore. Pity. She was a really good writer.

That's actually an interesting short story.

A. E. Lowan

Forum Mom
Writing is hard. I want you to keep this in mind because it's not just you. Writing is hard, and painful, and frustrating, and if it was easy everyone would do it. Think about all of the people you've met who've confided that they'd "love to write a book someday when they have the time." I know for me, it's a whole lot. I'm always encouraging, because it costs nothing to be kind, but the truth of the matter is that it's not going to happen.

You are different. You've been writing from the beginning. Writers write, and you do write. Now what you need to work on is discipline.

Writing is hard. Filling a pool spoonful by spoonful hard. Filling a universe word by word hard. And it should be hard. Our writing is us cleaving off slivers of our souls to share with others, most of whom we will never meet. But you need to sit down and put in the work to finish something. Anything. The beginning is easy. That's just exposition and character and glimpses of conflict. The middle is always hard. It's why we call it the "muddy middle." But the end is where you bring all of your learned craft to bear and tie everything together in a way that drags the reader along with you, kicking and screaming for more. Usually during this phase I'm reading books on writing to keep me fired up. I'm a hard-core planner, but even my outlines can surprise me and I can't wait to see that happens next.

Writing is hard. If it was easy, literally everyone would do it, and half of them are if you look at the millions of indie writers published on Amazon. But, remember this: chicks dig scars, and glory is forever. Finish something.
I would say one thing (which combined various aspects) changed my finishing problem: screenwriting. The combination of the study of story structure and discipline to get the whole thing told in 120 pages changed things for me. Lots of benefits to screenwriting, even if it messes with you after trying to jump back to more traditional story writing. It also cemented the “rush” of being finished with a full-blow story ready for production companies to peruse.


I write my endings first. Then all I have to do is plot it backwards until I hit a boring stretch. That's the beginning. Then I write the middle.