How many unfinished stories does the average author have?
I recently took inventory of all the stories I’ve written, and was surprised to find how many I had started and not finished. I have published three novels so far, so finishing a draft in general is not a problem for me. Some stories seem take hold of me and I can’t rest until they are done, and others, not so much. But that pile of unfinished manuscripts has been staring at me almost as hard as my TBR (to be read) pile, and it made me wonder if there was a common thread, a particular reason why those stories didn’t get finished. Was there something wrong, or is it normal to have a backlog of unfinished work?
I polled several authors, both traditionally and indie published, and their answers surprised me. Just as every author’s writing process is different, so is their approach to finishing drafts. Here’s what I found:
Some or none? A few authors said they always finish what they started, but the majority did have at least some unfinished drafts, with the average being around 4-5. One prolific author had twenty-four drafts set aside.
Plotter or pantser? Some voiced the thought that having unfinished stories may have to do with being a “plotter” or “pantser” style of writer, but I saw no discernable trends in that regard.
Will they go back and finish? Most planned to finish their stories at some point, but some chalked it up to learning their craft. Only one person reported they had deleted their old drafts. Several authors mentioned having gone back to old manuscripts and rewriting them into successful books. Personally, I agree with keeping everything─you never know what might work in the future and there could be gold in those old manuscripts.
Does it bother them? Having unfinished stories has been bothering me, so I asked if others felt the same. Again, it depended on the author’s perspective. A few said it bothered them to have the unfinished stories, but others said they kept their main focus on what they were currently working on and had no time or energy to worry about anything else.
Why didn’t you finish? Many reported they loved their unfinished stories but set them aside for more saleable projects. For example, they got a contract on an earlier work, or had to keep working on a series, got an idea for a currently popular genre, etc. You have to go where the money is! But some authors said that certain stories just won’t come together, no matter how much you love the premise or the characters. It doesn’t mean the story is hopeless, though. Ideas for the stalled story could still come at any time.
This exercise did tell me a few things about myself as a writer. First, I’m not alone or abnormal. Not finishing a draft or not using a completed draft is a natural part of the business. As long as you keep working, keep moving forward, it’s all just your body of work.
Taking time to examine my unfinished stories helped me in other ways, too. I was able to discern the common themes running through my work, and see the development of my voice. I can see how I’ve progressed with plotting and character development.
So I’m not as worried now about those languishing drafts, but sometimes the characters of those unfinished works start prompting me to get back to “their” story. I feel so guilty─I have let them down! But I guess I’ll just have to make peace with the fact I may never finish them all, and that’s okay.
How many unfinished stories do you have? Does it bother you?