From “Once Upon a Time” to “The End”

I have nine unfinished novels on my hard drive. The longest runs almost a hundred pages; the shortest about two paragraphs. I have several folders full of research, character sketches and plot outlines. I have poured untold hours and progressively larger pieces of my soul into these projects and not one of them has panned out.

I don’t know why I struggle so much when it comes to finishing what I start. I don’t know if I’m so paralyzed by perfectionism that I can’t continue for fear of ruining the story or if I’m just easily distracted by the thousands of other things I could be doing on my computer instead of writing. All I know is that sooner or later, I hit a block. Is it the result of perfectionism? Laziness? Poor planning? Cheating on my beloved novel with a new idea?

Maybe my problem more basic than creative infidelity. Maybe what I’m really missing is structure. In a newsroom, things get done because everyone is working under an immovable deadline and everyone is held accountable for getting their contribution finished. I think my novel writing process needs to work more like a newsroom. Accountability and deadlines are a writer’s best friend. When you’re working under pressure, all kinds of magical things happen. Your right brain goes into overdrive, solving problems as they arrive instead of languishing on them for weeks or months (or years) and your inner editor doesn’t have time to convince you to go back and rewrite. There will be time to rewrite when this draft is finished, your right brain tells you.

Deadlines can be an incredible tool for a writer. So, as I gear up to embark on yet another excursion into novel land, I’m going to try to give myself some structure. With any luck, it will keep me focused all the way from “once upon a time” to “the end.”

Tenth time’s a charm, right?

— 30 —

Published by Jonny Eberle

Writer, photographer, blogger and filmmaker in the City of Destiny. You can find my blog at

7 thoughts on “From “Once Upon a Time” to “The End”

  1. I hope a deadline works better for you than it tends to for me. Self-imposed limits loom over me most unpleasantly and the added pressure distracts me from the otherwise enjoyable (mostly) writing process.
    Daily word-count goals serve me better; even if I will sometimes fall severely short of them, the hours logged in the effort of attainment is ever for the good, and even measly word-counts add up over time.
    Of course, every writer is different. It could well be that a deadline is just the tool you need to get your novel finished. Discover what suits you best, then full steam ahead. Good luck to you!

  2. writers block is never a great problem for me, finding quiet time to write with 2 young kids and a full time job is a problem! Having a deadline to work to must be a great motivator though. I write for pleasure, my only deadline is self imposed.

  3. I have tried my hand at a couple novels and never could finish one! I stick to shorter projects now. Those experiences have given me a deep respect for anyone who has finished a novel. It is definitely a marathon type endeavor. I wish you nothing but luck.

  4. I think you sound like most writers. I have (pause while I go count) 12 started novels and an uncountable number of ideas on “file” that may make it into one of those 12 or may become their own stories. I am tragically bad at starting something new and getting distracted by newer things (or sometimes older things) after a little while. Part of it for me is creative ADD, and part of it is that I can’t go forward full-tilt until I have a very solid outline. Maybe not color of dress level of detailed outline, but scene by scene, mood by mood, event by event level. Then I can bang out 100K in 3 months, if the project obsesses me enough. I think you saw my recent post on that…I recommend looking at what it is that’s keeping any particular story from being able to obsess you like that. 🙂

  5. I have never thought of unfinished novels as “creative infidelity.” What a fantastic and apt phrase! And yes, as evident by the comments you are not alone, unfinished novels creep in my documents folders like termites. But everything you start, even if you don’t finish it, is still of use, I feel.

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