Where to stop?

I previously posted about different takes on when a writer stops writing for the day (or night).  Some writers keep going until meeting a specific word goal. Others try to finish a chapter or short story. Still others set a time limit and stop when the counter reaches zero.

For those that write toward a word goal or for a set time, I came across an interesting debate. Where do you stop when you reach the word goal or time limit? Do you finish the page? Do you finish the paragraph? Do you even finish the sentence?

Common sense seems to advocate at least finishing the sentence–if not paragraph–the writer is on when reaching his or her self-imposed limit. What if you forget the idea you’re working on? What if you can’t replicate the writing grove you’re in the next time?

I certainly followed this line of reasoning. When I had more time to write, my goal for a writing session was to finish a scene. If I finished that scene before my writing time ran out, I’d usually still quit, enjoying the sense of accomplishment and the unexpected free time. I also dreaded getting in the grove of writing the next scene and having to stop midway.

As my time to write decreased, I had to settle for stopping at the appointed time. Even so, I would finish the paragraph I was on. Then I listed to an interview with speculative fiction author Tim Powers on the Reading and Writing Podcast. He writes each day to a specific word goal and stops when he reaches that goal, regardless of whether he is in the middle of paragraph or in the middle of a sentence. He argues it is easier and more exciting to resume writing when you have to dive back into the middle rather than starting at the beginning of something new.

I was skeptical but put this nugget in the back of my mind. Lately, as my writing time each day diminished further, I almost had no choice but to give it a shot. I first ended a couple evening writing sessions at the end of a sentence, no matter if it was the end of a paragraph. Then, I took the leap and ended in the middle of a sentence. It was a line of dialogue, and I simply stopped three words in. The next evening I picked it right back up with little hesitation.  And I didn’t hate it.

It worked so well, I’ve continued with this technique. Sometimes that last paragraph or sentence can take another 2, 5, or 10 minutes. I’m already under pressure to finish and get ready for bed, which can’t help the writing process. So now I stop. Period. Though admittedly, the stopping point is not necessarily a period.

If you haven’t already, I recommend giving this approach a try. If you have or when you do, let me know in the comments what you think. Did it work for you, or was it a catastrophe?

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