17. Finish it

My father is a great admirer of the work of W Somerset Maugham, especially his short stories.

Somerset Maugham is often quoted for his advice to writers. I remember a story of him being asked why he had published a particular piece of work which, once it was in print, he didn’t seem to have much respect for. He answered that he had to publish it, so that he could write the next thing.

Not everyone is lucky enough to have such a tame publisher. And you could argue that publishing sub-standard work doesn’t do the author much good in the long run. But substitute the word ‘finish’ for ‘publish’ and I think it’s a really important tip. Find a way to finish, some form of closure – publish on your weblog, give it to a friend with a dedication, remove the files from your computer so that you won’t be tempted to tinker – so that you can make the most of your other brilliant ideas. Move on. Don’t be afraid to fail.

In other words, don’t be like that other Somerset Maugham character, about whom he said:

‘For twenty years he amused himself with thinking about what he would write when he really got around to it and for another twenty with what he could have written if the fates had been kinder.’