Leaving Scenes Unfinished

Amusement Litopia Rewrites Game of Thrones?!

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Paul Whybrow

Full Member
Jun 20, 2015
Cornwall, UK
In 1934, a 22-year-old aspiring writer called Arnold Samuelson hitchhiked to Key West, Florida to seek advice from his hero Ernest Hemingway.

He recorded Hemingway's thoughts on writing, storing the manuscript in a drawer, where it was found by his daughter after his death in 1981. She arranged for it to be published as With Hemingway: A Year In Key West and Cuba


While mentoring Samuelson, Hemingway offered an abundance of advice, including this tip:

The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day when you are writing a novel you will never be stuck. That is the most valuable thing I can tell you so try to remember it.

Hemingway was effectively cautioning writers not to worry about a reaching a daily word count which could become a drudge of a task, ruining their creativity.

Finishing a writing session mid-paragraph aware of where the story is going next helps momentum the next day. One's brain works on the scene, while awake and asleep, which spurs on new ideas.

It's a technique I've used many times, for after all, it's far better to stop when things are going well than to wait until I'm stuck! I always follow Thomas Edison's advice as part of the technique:


It's surprising how many times sleeping on things produces great ideas.

It turns out that Hemingway's suggestion is based on a psychological phenomenon known as the Zeigarnik Effect. Named after Bluma Wulfovna Zeigarnik, a Russian psychiatrist and psychologist, who extrapolated from an observation her professor made about waiters—that they hold a diner's order in their minds until the food is served.

It turns out we all remember unfinished tasks better than completed goals, which provides great motivation to complete it.

You Can Sharpen Your Memory With the Zeigarnik Effect

This year, as I build an online author platform in preparation to launch my Cornish Detective novels as a self-published series, I've been working in fits and starts on a novella as therapy, but it's rather backfired on me. Each time, I've stopped writing at interesting plot incidents, sometimes not returning to the story for a couple of weeks, which has turned it into a spiky Rubik's Cube in my mind!

It's a great sensation when you're on a roll while writing, in the creative groove, firing on all cylinders and adding to your masterpiece, but that might be the time to pause for a few hours...

What do you think?

Somewhere along my timeline I remember what you have just said about Hemingway's advice, only I had forgotten where it came from... ah ah, now I know! I've kept that advice at the back of my mind and found it does work- my problem was that if I was all tied up and excited about writing something, I would not stop half way and finish it at another time since I applied the notion "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush." However it did influence me because I would end a sitting with a note as to what comes next otherwise when I sat down next time to write and faced a blank, it was hard, really hard to start off again.

That happened just recently, facing a blank, that is, when after the input from Pop Up Subs I revised the novel I submitted which took me about three weeks. After which I returned to the WIP, the one about demons, which I am halfway through, but I had to re-read it from the start to get back into the swing of things- so no, long breaks are not profitable for me.

What I do agree with you upon is when you are working on piece, a scene... well yes, I often leave it and go off somewhere or other. In the bad old days I used to smoke a fag or two and then get back with great gusto to writing. Now I end up with coffee, chocolate, cake, fruits, nuts, ice-cream... I think writing takes up a lot of energy that's why the body craves for something to fill it... Yes, smoking might have been bad, but getting fat is not healthy either!

Sleep is good too for coming up with ideas, but then you become neurotic since you end up staying awake all night. The best thing is to take a walk, weed the garden, or dance... but not always does one have the energy to do it- so we just flop on that lovely, comfy sofa and wait for inspiration to come... ah what bliss!
@Kirsten Sounds like you need a break!! If you are not in easy reach of your thyratron a 4-inch nail into the prefrontal cortex (middle of the forehead) is a handy alternative and known to produce zombie-like behaviour. :)

Me, I can only focus on one idea at a time and I get obsessive about it.
Different techniques work for different folk but if I am in the groove I don't stop in the middle of something I go for it. At such times I like to put down lots of words without much thought as to the quality of writing. I then sleep on them and roll in them and in the morning wake up thinking about them and spend the day putting them in a different order so that a reader might understand what I am on about.
I do feel the old saying of 'sleep on it' is very true. Sleep improves just about anything.
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With articles, I have a rough deadline and I like deadlines. But if I don't. and I don't feel like writing, I won't worry. I've written 2 full length MS's now. That was my challenge to myself in the first place. See if I could physically do that, even if it was a heap of utter, steaming merde. Now I know I have the stamina and application when it matters to me. The things I have written that I think have worked the best, didn't write themselves. Oh no. I had to wring the crafting of the revisions out of myself by main force, but the first drafts did drive themselves in sustained bursts, with fallow bits in between.
My 'live' novel is not what's fashionable right now, I don't think, and that's OK. I wrote it because I wanted to. Time will tell. Meanwhile, it can sit in its vat and ferment, or just go bad.

Any other way is so tiring, I find, and the mind can overheat.
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Amusement Litopia Rewrites Game of Thrones?!