The Craftsman or the Factory Line.

Finishing a piece of writing is harder than it sounds.

I know it probably shouldn’t be. I mean, as writers we should be well versed with the entire process of writing, right? We should know each and every step of a project start to finish. After all, we’re writers? We’re the people who do the writing, who else is going to know?

This doesn’t seem to be the case.

Perhaps the most common complaint I hear from other writers, and from myself, is that it’s a hassle to get projects finished. I know this was my problem. I was calling myself a writer for years, but I didn’t actually sit down and bring a story to something I could call completion until the end of last year. That was the first, and only time, I’ve turned the last page on a manuscript and said “it’s done.” Hopefully that will change soon. My deadline for Time Trial is the fifteenth and I’m probably going to meet it, but those near-deadline doubts and anxieties are creeping in. It has me thinking about how I ever made myself finish that first story, and the approach I take to my work.

I used to take The Craftsman approach. I think everyone probably does at first. The Craftsman approach is one of perfection. You start writing your story at the beginning and every time you write something you don’t like, you stop and fix it. The problem with The Craftsman approach is that it is unbearably slow. Seeking out perfection at each and every stage is impossible and this is probably the reason that so few writers actually finish projects. The other problem with this approach is that you need experience with all aspects of writing to really develop as a writer. After years of calling myself a writer, I learnt that I had no experience with anything beyond writing the first draft. I had to change the way I was doing things.

So, I moved on to the Factory Line approach. I had grown so frustrated with never finishing anything that when I wrote Christmas Past, I wrote it to a strict deadline. Too strict in fact. I started in the first week of December and told myself to be done by Christmas. It was published on the 4th of January. It has its problems, but to this day I am amazed how well that little story turned out. From there, I made a few stumbles. Firstly, I told myself that I would adopt a similar deadline approach. However, instead of working on the next story, I decided I would write a short story collection. The mistake was obvious. I had gone from setting myself a small (almost) manageable goal, to giving myself a much larger project with a much more distant deadline. The goal might have been clearly set, but the workload was too high and the date so distant that I was no better off than I had been without a deadline. It took me until June to realise this.

So, I went back to the drawing board. I gave myself a basic plan for a series of six stories, with a timeslot of six weeks to bring each to completion. This was my Factory Line. Producing a single product in a concentrated space of time, publishing and  moving on the next. The results have been satsifactory so far. The first draft of Time Trial was produced quickly and I was happy with it. After that, I have had much more time to go back and revise and edit it. However, now I’m running into some of the flaws with this approach, and I can’t decide if I’m just having reasonable doubts or I’m sniffing out major wounds in my work.

My biggest problem is that, like most writers, I get too close to my work while I’m writing it. This makes it much harder to view the work objectively, and I find I trust my judgement less and less. My Factory Line approach says I should work to get the story as perfect as I can, publish and then move on. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad idea, at this stage in my development as a writer I am probably better served moving on to the next piece than deliberating over an old one. But, I worry that if my doubts are justified, I run the risk of publishing a terrible piece and doing real damage to my reputation.

I have always said that I want to learn as I do. Not just learning about the business side, but learning more about my strengths and weaknesses as a writer. I like using KDP and self-publishing as a ladder, allowing writers to start small and work their way up in a way that traditional publishing no longer allows. Unfortunately, it often leaves me second guessing my actions. Wondering if I have the right to publish my early steps into professional writing. A publisher would probably reject them, therefore I have no place publishing them. But isn’t this the attitude that self-publishing exists in opposition to? At the end of the day, I’ve set myself a deadline and I intend to meet it. I try not to let my worries change my behaviour. If being too close means that I can’t trust my judgement, the best approach is probably just to stick to the plan and look back to see how I did later. I have little reputation to tarnish at the moment, and so long as I’m honest and I only publish a work that I really feel reflect my best abilities, I have no reason to feel badly.

  • wynwords

    Don’t forget that many factories also have a down time, while something cures, or freezes or ages. You could set up a file system where you finish the story then put it in the appropriate file i.e. September for final finish. It takes a little while to get going, but eventually you’ll have a great rotation and multiples going. Just a thought.

  • That’s not a bad idea. Breaking down the projects into smaller, non-final deadlines would probably be a bit more manageable too…