It’s happened to most writers I know. You’re in the middle of an essay/poem/story when you suddenly have the urge to go back and fix several problems with paragraph one. You resist the urge as best you can, but it gets harder and harder to wade through the final half of your work because your mind is constantly thinking of ways to improve the part that’s already on paper. There’s nothing wrong with giving in per se. The problem, for me anyway, is that as you start revising, you move back through that first half that you’ve already written revising as you go until you suddenly realize that your revision to the beginning doesn’t really fit with what you’ve now changed in the second quarter of the piece and so the cycle starts over again without any actual forward progress being made on completing the piece.
If I’m on a deadline, such as with research papers for uni. or articles for a magazine or contest, I can generally fight through to the end and get something completed–often something whose first half is a sight better than it’s second, but at least a whole work. With very short works such as formal poetry, I can generally complete a first draft before the urge kicks in. And of course, once the first full draft is complete I can revise to my heart’s content knowing that I am revising a completed work and that whenever I choose to stop revising (if ever) the work will still be complete. [As it happens here I am revising this paragraph while this missive is still incomplete] I should also note, that I’m not talking about writer’s block in the traditional sense. I know where each particular work needs to go next and I’m excited about getting it there. If I do run into that kind of block I certainly always have other projects on the table that I can resort to.
Nevertheless, I have never in my adult life managed to complete any creative work longer than about 2 pages (500 words). Never. There’s no missing dependent clause here. I’ve started three or four novels, a good dozen short stories, and more than one creative essay. They are all incomplete. Some are still available to me, others have gone untouched (due to the molasses that was my forward momentum) for so long that I have lost the original file/notebook/envelope.
I’m writing this celebrate the completion of my very first children’s story. It took only the spare moments during a one weekend retreat to complete it, but it has been hanging out in my brain for at least 4 years and hadn’t made it out onto paper yet. (There were at least two abortive attempts, one in longhand and one on my blog using a draft post.) Finally the story of Princess Abigail and the Dragon is complete. It isn’t finished yet. It still needs a lot of revising, but at least now I’ll be revising a completed work! My greatest thanks go to Stephanie for typing it up for me so that I can do that revision more easily.