Linda Kulp Trout

Sunday, November 2, 2008


Last night I used my extra "fall back" hour organizing the area where I keep all of my writing materials. I love collecting notebooks and have tons of them. People give them to me as gifts, and I can't resist buying them. Here's the problem, every time I get a new one, I fill a few pages and then move on to another. I have over a dozen partially filled notebooks that rotate through. I write in one for a while then move on to another one. I never seem to stay with one until it's filled up.

It's the same way with my writing projects. I have 3 or 4 poetry collections, two picture books, several essays, and a nonfiction series all in various stages. I dive into a project full of enthusiasm, then read something that tells me how "only 3 in 12,000 books submitted ever get published," and I give up. Since there are no deadlines and no one waiting to read what I've written, what does it matter if I don't finish? A critique group might help, but I haven't been able to find a group who write for children in my area. I'm not sure if I'm ready to share with a group online.

I used to think that maybe I didn't really want to write, and that was why I never finished. But, if I don't like to write, how'd I end up with a file full of poems and essays?

Last night as I read through my notebooks, I discovered many entries showed a lack of self-confidence. Even in journals I wrote twenty years ago, the same issues kept coming up: my failure to stick to a fitness program, to "fix" my personal life, and to accomplish my writing goals...unfinished projects. Only a few entries described my successes. I've had an early reader, twenty or so poems, a few essays, articles and book reviews published, but I don't write about those because I have convinced myself that it had to be due to luck, not my writing skills.

It occured to me that maybe I don't finish things because if I never finish, I won't have to worry about failing.

Do we all doubt ourselves, or are writers more susceptible because of constant rejection? I heard prolific songwriter, David Foster say that sometimes questioned his writing ability and worried that maybe he was a fraud. I was surprised by his confession because how can he not know how gifted he is? Everyone from Whitney Houston to Earth, Wind and Fire have performed his songs!

I guess another piece of my unfinished pie is that there is so much conflicting advice out there.
Eileen Spinelli wrote this about writing, "How can you love the work if you're already a mile down the road worrying about whether it's going to be published? The publication will take care of itself. I hate to see writers just cringing and skipping ahead, and worrying about publication."
That sounds wonderful, write what you love. Will this work if you want to make a living as a writer?

But another very accomplished writer told me, "Professional writers get a contract then write the book." To me this means treat writing like a business and don't focus so much on what you love to write. I'm not sure I'd like that.

There has to be a balance of both "writing for a paycheck and writing what you love." Some writers, like Laura Salas has certainly been able to do it.

Back to "unfinished" business, how do you keep yourself motivated to finish a project? Do you get a contract first and then have a deadline to motivate you? Do you have someone who keeps you accountable, or have you found a way to do that for yourself? I'd really love to hear from you. A new year is coming, and I want to make a resolution to finish what I start.


  1. I noticed you are a teacher. Don't beat yourself up about your unfinished work. Time is probably part of your problem. Looking back over your notebooks, are there things unfinished that you feel a spark for still? If so, try to take a few and finish. You'll gain confidence in finishing some.

  2. Thanks for the suggestion. Yes, I do have plenty of ideas I want to write about. I just really need to stop trying to multi-task and finish one piece.

  3. Sounds like what you really need is a block of quiet time all to yourself in which you can focus.
    I know, easier said than done.