Keep writing, don't keep quiet. Picture of author's first page of first short story

Finish that story

Black text saying The End on Blue background
Those blessed words

Do you need a deadline?

I do.  I spend quite a bit of money, that could otherwise be spent on cheese, entering writing competitions, just for the deadline.  (Ok, so winning might be nice too).

Last weekend I sent a story to a competition, knowing the best thing about it was that it was written. I followed my usual method and started in plenty of time, about six weeks before. It went like this.

  1. Idea! Research. Flurry of writing.
  2. Beginning done, do a little more research on steamships.
  3. More research on west-coast Tasmania in the 1930s.
  4. Re-write the beginning, nitpick, tinker, agonise, re-write, research men’s hats in the 1930s, repeat.
  5. Change point of view character.
  6. Help! I’m running out of time.
  7. Research greyhounds and racing pigeons.
  8. The deadline is SOOOON and I’ve just had a great idea for a story about a woman who ignores her family for so long that…
  9. Delete scene with creepy greyhound owner and that clunky dialogue about racing pigeons.
  10. Consider giving up as a lost cause.
  11. Know that if I give up now, I’ll never finish it.
  12. Fill in the entry form, pay the money.
  13. Race to write the ending.
  14. Wake up husband to proof-read.
  15. Make corrections and hit send.
  16. Fall into bed, can’t sleep because I full of the joy of finishing.

I’ve since given this story to a friend for feedback and she’s picked up flaws that I had a hunch were there. However, if I’d stopped to work on those flaws, I’d still be re-writing.  Is it wishful to think the problems will be sorted by the next competition deadline?

Markus Zusak, author of The Book Thief,  took 13 years to go through his version of the above process. I really felt for him when I read this story, Markus Zusak: ‘I was just failing and failing, over and over again.’ in the Sydney Morning Herald, 6 October 2018.

I’ve just finished reading Bridge of Clay and I can see why it took a long time to write. There were so many options for the point of view character and such rich history for the parents. I appreciated that he chose the oldest brother to narrate and adored the story of the mother.  Well worth reading. 

Are you good at finishing things or do you need to to employ self-trickery and manipulation to get to The end?


  • Judith Robl

    We are sisters under the skin. My current WIP is a historical novel that I’ve been seriously working on for ten years. Deadlines are the ultimate accountability enforcer. It’s been that way all my life. My initiative is marvelous. My finitiative (my mother’s coined word) is abysmal.

    • AllyMitchell

      Hi Judith,
      Nice to me an under-the-skin sister! Love the word finiative. I’m determined to finitiate my first novel, set in the 1950s and 60s, this year. Good luck with yours!

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