Often new members come to our writing group and ask for feedback on their as-yet-uncompleted novel. Or someone who’s been with us a while will get an idea for a story while at the group, write a few scenes of it during the writing sessions, and then ask everybody what we think. This seems perfectly reasonable on the surface, and is, I think, why many people start going to writing groups in the first place.
However, as a group we have learned that giving feedback on the actual writing is not helpful in these situations. What we invariably say to people is, “Have you gotten to The End yet? Have you finished the first draft?” And if the answer is no, then our feedback is “Keep going! Get to The End! When you get there, you’ll be able to answer your own question.”
There are quite a few variations on this advice. For example,Writer: I’ve just realized I need Character X to be an insurance salesman instead of a knight, and the book needs to start off in Palm Springs two years earlier! Group: Write yourself a note to that effect, pretend you already made all those changes and they are wonderful, and KEEP GOING! Get to The End!
Writer: Do you think I should structure this story as a series of flashbacks, or would it make more sense to do it in chronological order?
Group: Finish the story however you can. When you reach The End, then you’ll be able to figure out what story you’re actually telling and whether it will work better told in flashbacks or chronologically. Don’t waste time deciding that now. Just KEEP GOING! Get to The End!
Writer: Should I use first or third person? Past or present tense? I keep switching as I write.
Group: Use whatever gets the story out. Switch all you want – that’s easy to fix later. Anything that helps you get the story out is the right thing for that moment. KEEP GOING! Get to The End!
We’ve been together for quite a while (I started running the group in 2004, and some of our members have been with us since then), but we didn’t name our group for over seven years. Why did it take so long? I don’t know. Maybe it had something to do with wanting the name to reflect our identity as a group. Why did we choose the name Write to the End? That’s easy: It’s the advice we most often give each other. As soon as we thought of that name, we knew it was a good one for our group. And we’re also experiencing an unexpected benefit: It’s very satisfying and motivating for the name of our group to be a sort of rallying cry. When one of us is getting bogged down in a story, another of us can say, “It’s going to be okay. Just write to the end!” I think it has already made our group stronger and is probably helping our members with their writing projects.
Of course “Write to the End” has other meanings too, which as writers we appreciate and use. But its most useful meaning is to always prefer finishing what you start over worrying about what you’ve written, which I would encourage you to apply to your own writing. Remember, don’t fix it—finish it! Write to The End!