I am guessing you are one of three sorts of writer.
Does this sound like you?
You have hundreds of ideas. You have dozens of opening sentences. You have lots and lots of half-stories. You have a few stories that have even reached what you once hoped was the end, but which turned out merely to have finished without having ever been completed.
What you need, you say, is discipline.
I’ll call you the Starter.
Or is this you?
You have a project – it is the thing that made you want to write in the first place. It is your story (not necessarily your life story, although it might be). You need to tell this story, and so you began quite a few years ago; and ever since – with brief holidays, or on brief courses – you have been engaged upon trying to write this damn thing whilst also trying to learn how to write this damn thing whilst also (you now admit) trying to learn how to write.
What you need, you say, is an editor.
I’ll call you the Middler.
Or is this you?
You have novels that are completed, several of them. You have written them sincerely, start to finish, with moments of enthusiasm and breakthrough and weeks of doggedness and calculation, but they haven’t done anything for you. Their readers, these novels, have been polite, have praised this bit or that bit, but no-one has ever taken you and lifted you out of your unwanted, unpublished life and into the glory of authorship.
What you need, you say, is a publisher.
I’ll call you the Ender.
In themselves Starting, Middling and Ending are all good and necessary things to do.
Without the ideas and enthusiasm of the Starter, there aren’t any stories.
If there’s no deeper commitment, such as that of the Middler to their book, then there are only empty deadlines and novels that are really journalism.
And the Ender has the greatest of all a novelist’s possible virtues, stubbornness.
The truth is, you have probably, at one time, been both a Starter and a Middler. Enders are rarer, because not everyone is able to free themselves enough time to complete a novel. The father is pushing a buggy toward the sandpit. The cab driver is picking up her fares. Life constantly happens and art is constantly deferred.
If I were to choose any of these types as the one most likely to develop into a short story writer, I would choose the Starter.
If I were to choose one as a future writer of non-fiction, it would be the Middler.
And for a future writer of novels, it would be the Ender.
It is almost certain that what they lack (or you, if you are one of them) is a clear understanding of what makes a story, and an even clearer understanding of what doesn’t make a story.
Which is where we’re going next week.