Welcome to The Draft, an advice column about writing and life from Eileen Pollack, former director of the University of Michigan MFA Program. We’re here to answer your questions about storycraft, writing, and telling the truth.
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Even when I have an outline, I start strong and then have trouble closing posts. Hours (sometimes days) of work have gone into each. I want to break free from this pattern and publish more regularly. I’m not having trouble writing, and I’m not having trouble making time to write; I’m drowning in a sea of semi-completed work. Why don’t I finish my creative projects?
Drowning in Doubt
Writers often abandon an essay because they don’t really know what they are supposed to accomplish. After a few paragraphs in which they describe a memorable experience or state an opinion, they stop, sensing they haven’t made their readers care. As I’ve discussed in earlier columns, what the writer needs to do is make sure she isn’t stating what she already knows but is exploring a question that perplexes her about that opinion or experience. Searching for an answer to that question will motivate the writer to solve the mystery.
In another column, I suggested coming up with an organic form for your essay — a narrative, a journey, an investigation, or an experiment — and allowing that structure to guide you from beginning to end.
But with you, Drowning, I sense something more is going on. You have an outline, so you must see your project as a whole. Maybe you stop midway because you are afraid your essay isn’t worth completing.
Like most of us, you worry your ideas aren’t original or important enough to impress your readers. Your language is stale or flat. No one will be moved enough by your words to stop racism, misogyny, or global warming. If you were smarter or more talented, writing would be far easier. What could be so hard about getting your ideas on the page…