Buddy Cushman Art

engaging stories of hope and joy

Finish it, will ya!


20140817_090403I have this problem. With my writing. I can’t seem to finish things. Actually, “can’t” is probably the wrong word. A better word is “don’t”. So as not to let myself off the hook. I could, in fact, finish things — books, stories, novellas — but I tend not to. I don’t.

Which is a problem, a problem that is entirely, one hundred percent, ain’t no sharing here, on me. I suppose I could deflect some of this obvious personal character defect — my parents weren’t tough enough, too much sparing the rod and spoiling the child; teachers all along the way didn’t push me, didn’t motivate me, didn’t raise the bar for me; I fell in with a crowd at an early age that was more interested in quality testing of various liquid refreshments like Haffenreffer Private Stock and Chianti (with those cool, round, basket-weave coverings that we used for hip candle holders) and Tango; that I grew up in an age that idolized endless wandering and meandering.

But that would be punking out. I worked for a youth program in San Francisco for a while, with lots of cool, righteous, ‘you are responsible for you’ sayings. One of them was “Own Your Own”. It’s a good one, and I get it and accept it, which means that as far as my starting and not finishing writing projects goes, it is my problem. It’s all about me.

I don’t know why that is, this failure to finish. I suppose a good therapist might help me puzzle it out in three or four years. But, I’m a struggling artist and wannabe writer with very little in the way of money, so that’s not an option.

Which is why I am writing this post. To ask for help. Yours. I need your help.

Let me give a few examples, and I’ll be brief because there’s some other stuff I want to do.

A little over a year ago, after a drive-through with my son Cameron and his family, I wrote a story about a trout farm, and some strange, lethal going ons there. I set the story just outside Astoria, on the Oregon coast and Columbia River. The story was just under 9000, not all that long but not short either. A couple of weeks later I had an idea for another story, about what happens when you drink too much coffee at night, and set that one in Astoria too. Soon after a “Duh” moment occurred, and I realized I could write a book of short stories — I settled on eleven — all set in Astoria, which would be my first ever book, “Astoria Strange”. I plugged along, took a fiction writing class at Portland State, kept writing, and sometime in June finished the 10th story, “Texas Two-Step”.

By that time, in mid-June, I had written just under 130,000 words, had completed ten stories, awaiting re-write and revision. This morning, October 7th, while meditating in the pre-dawn dark (where I usually sit in a chair for 20 minutes or so and think about the Red Sox and other stuff), the thought came to me, in bright neon signage, that I was a story short from writing my first ever book, here in my seventh decade on the planet, and three months had passed since the last one. Double duh.

Here’s another example. I began a short story for a specific submission request that required some kind of apocalyptic event and a leading character with a disability long ago, early summer (just when I was not finishing my book). Very quickly I passed the limit of words that particular submission allowed, and kept going. I went past 10,000, I went past 20,000, I went past 30,000. I knew I had my first ever novella in the making, under then name “Ring Around the Rosy”, and realized, hopefully without arrogance, that it was pretty damned good. But somewhere in August the writing slowed down. I did manage, in late September, to pass 40,000 words, but the steam was running out of my engine. Rosy and her friends were staring at me, pleading for resolution. Total duh.

Instead, I began another story, for another submission, and it’s 4000 words down on the basement computer. It’s been there a while. I wrote, last Saturday, a flash fiction piece of 1200 words and sent it off the same day. See — I can finish stuff.

I should also mention that I have, sitting somewhere in the electrical innards of this computer, the beginnings of two other novels, both begun last winter — one about a young man with polio in Berkeley who is becoming a Jim Rockford character, and another about a kid from Wareham, Massachusetts who drinks too much, suffers a head injury, and begins having premonitions and visions, which will lead him on a long journey to a bar in Santa Monica, CA, where he spends his time, not drinking, but doing something else.

I don’t know what. Yet. I don’t know how the “Rosy” story ends. Yet. I don’t know what story to tell for my 11th and final “Astoria” story. Yet. I don’t know how Bennie in Berkeley rescues the runaways in the Tenderloin. Yet.

I say “Yet”, with great hope, that the endings will come, happy or not, and I will finish these projects. Instead of starting another one. And then another one.

I don’t know what’s wrong, with me. So I am asking for your help. All suggestions, opinions, diagnoses, go jump in the lakes, any of it will be greatly appreciated.

Right now I need to get back to this painting I’m working on.


Author: buddycushmanart

This is my Blog, my opportunity to say what I think and write what I feel. The content has morphed in the two years of existence -- I began with personal tales of sillyness and drunkeness and soberness and times, places, and events within. Then I wrote a whole a lot of opinions about the world and its often sad shape, and how I thought we could make it better (re: engaging stories of hope). More recently I've taken to writing about this and that, including links to movies, Ted Talks, rock and roll, other writers' web pages, and more. These past seven years I have taken up the life of a painter, and my work can be seen on my web page ( www.buddycushmanfineart.com ) and my Etsy shop (www.etsy.com/shop/musicflower67). But I've been writing since I was just a young thing living on the Massachusetts coast, and storytelling is my home. I have a number of fiction works in varying degrees of completion, and have published two books of fiction in the last year, under the name W.B. Cushman. But it's here I get to share my whatevers of sorrow and hope, and hopefully, wonder and magic. Thanks for stopping in.

5 thoughts on “Finish it, will ya!

  1. I think you’ve covered all the bases as to possible reasons why you don’t finish projects. I have similar issues. Sometimes the answers are pretty straightforward. This is clearly bugging you, so now is the time to stop analyzing, fretting, tallking, and just act. Identify the projects that are close to completion, and finish ’em one by one. If you believe in each one, commit to the process of of closing them out or else hit “DELETE” and chuck ’em. And DON’T start something new until you’ve met your goals of completing works in progress. Stay off the Red Sox blogs, kick yourself in the butt and just do it. Stop overthinking and worrying. Your work is good, you’re proud of it, and you’ll feel great when that 11th Astoria piece is done!

  2. Thanks, my fellow Gray Jay. I hear you, and none of it deserves the delete button. Just gotta keep on keepin’ on. P.S. Genetically incapable of keeping off all things Red Sox.

  3. Hey Buddy,
    I’ve been suffering from the very same mental block, having been working on a suspense novel for YEARS! I have it all there, just haven’t finished the structuring to be able to write THE END and pitch it to a potential editor. The pros extol writing groups or partnerships for sharing and critiquing.–live or online. That way you have an external deadline to meet. Great idea–one I haven’t yet exercised. Know why? because then I’d actually have to finish (AHA!) and present something. Fear of failing? Just too any ideas and distractions buzzing around in my mind? Terrified of my internal editor cuz I’m always waiting for perfection? Yup. No easy answer. I have a wall full of inspirational writing quotations. My favorites: Hemingway—“The first draft is always shit.” Can’t cite origins: “In writing you must kill all your darlings.” (I probably have what I think is the elegant writing, astute characterization, spot-on word choice, plot twists, etc. for more than one book. But it’s just so freakin’ painful to cut anything out.) “If I waited for perfection I would never write a word.” “ I wrote my first novel because I wanted to read it.” And, Buddy, I must thank you. Your perseverance has inspired me and gotten me into the chair. Really. I’ve dragged out my bulging notebooks and file folders of completed chapters and begun working on my novel and seem to be making surprising progress. Maybe deep maturity (read OLD) helps. I’ve also changed my guiding principle: instead of aiming for an editor’s acceptance and eventual publication and trying to tailor my writing accordingly, I have embraced the sentiment “I wrote my first novel because I wanted to read it.” And I do want to see how my story turns out. So keep writing, Buddy, and keep inspiring me! And remember: “Your intuition knows what to write so get out of the way.”

    • Hi Bonnie. I have just re-read your comment to my blog post about not finishing stuff, which unfortunately remains the case some eight months after that post. Lots of paintings, some cool life stuff, but zero writing. I feel like in the last week I have turned my inner attention back toward my writing, but no new words yet. On any of the stories described above. The last three days I re-read my “Ring Around the Rosy” novella, which takes place in Marion, among other geographical locations. But no inspiration, yet, for proceeding to the end. I need some kind of dynamite push to get going.
      Any ideas? Want to read it? Give feedback? Co-write the ending, maybe? I don’t know.
      Anyway, I really appreciate your long note to the original post, and connections we’ve had on Facebook, and all of it. Even the sitting on a wooden bench in a booth at Water’s, drinking cherry cokes.

  4. Reblogged this on Buddy Cushman Art and commented:

    Um, and ah, well, like, I guess, I’m still needing a wicked lot of assistance with this character defect.

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