Finish What You Start?

By Elizabeth Engstrom

Last week I heard two friends mention that once they start reading a book, they read it to the end, no matter whether or not they like it, are interested in the characters, or find any value in it at all. One said that she committed to the end once she passed 100 pages. The other one finished the book once she started. No matter what.

While I believe their dedication is a virtue, I am exactly the opposite. There are just too many good books out there to be read. The stack on my night stand is impossible, and it doesn’t take into account all the books on my “to read some day” list. I’m not going to waste my time with a book that isn’t to my taste, or isn’t up to my level of literary scrutiny, or a book that I find distasteful.

Life’s short.

And yet… when I write something, I find it nearly impossible to abandon it, even if it has no real value to me, or anybody else.

Sometimes the things I write turn out to be mere exercises in this or that—exploring a topic, manipulating a personality quirk, toying with a relationship. They are not all meant to be expressions of literary genius.

And yet… what if I just messed with it a little more? What if I just devoted another year to it? What if I took it out of its dusty box, revisited it, and found gold?


I’m now of an age where I am just starting to recognize that there are things that are destined, from word one, for the creative compost heap. That doesn’t mean there isn’t value in them for me, as a writer. They are as an artist’s sketch pad: worth exploring but not necessarily ready for the reading public.

I am breaking up with some of my half-finished novels. I have several. They aren’t working for me, and they won’t work for you, either. But it’s hard. It feels like I wasted time, even though I know in my heart that it was not. But like every relationship that needs to come to an end, there are things to reflect upon, a little gratitude for what we gleaned, and then we move on.

Writing is much like reading: there is always more out there, and there is always more in here. I’m not going to waste my time reading a book that does not thrill me, and I’m not going to waste my time writing a book that doesn’t thrill me.

This is hard.

But hey. Life’s short.

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