Are You 90% Done…and Stuck? Finding the Moxie to Finish Your Project.

Happy 2021, friends! So excited to begin a new year and new creative visions.

BTW: I love the word “moxie.” And today I’m re-sharing a piece I originally wrote for Frolic Magazine but is having a lot of resonance for me as we enter this new year:

90% Done…and Stuck? Finding the Moxie to Finish Your Project

There it sits. Maybe it’s a book you started during last year’s NaNoWrimo. Maybe it’s something you’ve been working on since 2005. Or maybe it’s your quarantine project, started in a flurry of inspiration in the spring…and now it’s stalled.

Unfinished work is painful. Projects sitting there are painful. We feel like we let ourselves (and our vision) down. But most of us don’t know how to finish our projects because we don’t get a lot of practice at the skill of finishing.

We get lots of practice at beginnings. Beginnings are fun! Beginnings are full of promise, all hearts and flowers. But even if we’re great at beginning, we haven’t perfected the art of dragging those ideas back to shore and landing them. 

And that’s when people quit. 

I write flash fiction, stories under 1,000 words, and one of the benefits to writing flash fiction is that you get a lot of practice at finishing. When you sit down to write a flash fiction story you always see the end in sight. Finishing is a skill, like any other skill, and with practice you will get better.

“Finishing” can mean many things. Maybe you need to write the actual ending. Maybe you’re stalled somewhere in the middle, or even in the revising. But if you are in the “90% and stuck” category, you probably need to do one of three things:


You’ve mapped everything out, the entire timeline, a gorgeous synopsis, and you’ve been faithfully following your map…but you’re bored. When you know how your story ends, there’s less motivation to return. No mystery. You already know what’s going to happen, so you aren’t being driven to your computer in the middle of the night with crazy insights and inspiration. No, you are instead following your script, and most days it feels like you’re just punching in on the creative time clock. No wonder you aren’t finished! 

What your manuscript needs from you is some spontaneity, some breathing room. You might be really attached to your original vision, you may have spent countless hours mapping it out, but it’s time to “re-vision” your vision. It’s time to give the story some autonomy. Our stories are smarter than we are—and when we try to control and tame them…they can dry up. 


Or, on the other end, you have no idea where this project is going at all! You worry that you bit off more than you can chew. It all feels out of control. You’re avoiding it because you’re scared of it, intimidated by the scope of finishing. 

Welcome to the creative process. Remember, the muse gives it to us in HER time, so sometimes you just have to be patient. But being patient means showing up every day with an open heart. The long-term relationship of a big project includes the good and bad, the up days and the down days. Your job is to keep showing up. It’s this daily “checking in” with our work that allows it to come to life–or shift gears or whatever it wants to do. Like any relationship, you have to be there consistently, even in small ways, if you want it to trust you and reveal itself.  


Sometimes the project is technically “finished” but you’re stuck in the revision process. Maybe there is something missing and you just can’t see it. Maybe it just feels lackluster. Maybe you need to cut some fluff. Maybe you need to go deeper. 

In this case it’s time for a second opinion. You’ve been looking at your manuscript for too long and you have blind spots; allow someone who is less invested, and whose eyes are less tired, to give you a new perspective, a fresh vantagepoint. Whether this is a paid professional or a trusted colleague (emphasis on quality here!), remember a good reader/editor will interrogate your text, not rewrite it. They will help you see your project with clear eyes, shine a flashlight into your blind spots, so that you become clear about your next steps. 

So whether you need to let goshow up or phone a friend, the important thing is to keep going, if only for the practice of finishing.

Now let’s be clear: There is no shame in quitting a project if you just aren’t feeling the love. Life is too short to waste finishing work we don’t like. 

But if you still feel the spark, if your project still has something special, if you’re still curious about how it’s going to end or how to finish what you have started… then it’s time to get yourself back in the game.

Because only you can make your art.

Love, Nancy

Two summer flash fiction workshops!

Flash fiction workshops from beginner to advanced!

For more info and Earlybird Discounts CLICK HERE


June 13-July 3

So you want to write flash fiction? Flash adorable_tiny_things_640_23fiction is redefining how we tell stories, and by embracing this compressed form, all writers–from poets to novelists to nonfiction writers–are cultivating a new set of skills and creating an entirely new kind of story.

In this workshop we will generate original flash pieces, examine what makes successful flash fiction, and try to differentiate flash from its cousins, the prose poem and the vignette.





July 11-July 31

Editing is the most important part of the writing process. As serious writers, you know it’s through the editing process that we begin to refine and sculpt our messages. But just as writing flash fiction requires a
bonsaidifferent set of skills, so does editing flash fiction.

In this workshop we will use the tools of ambiguity and implication; we will learn the different between chipping and chopping; we will learn how to shrink-wrap text, and most of all learn how to achieve the specific needs of flash fiction as I guide you and other participants to edit your real works in progress.



Summer Resolution #1: Finish That Manuscript online workshop

An Online Workshop on Re-visioning, Taking the Next Step, and Falling (Back) in Love with Your Vision.

Starts April 27!

Are you or someone you know working on a manuscript? Are you stuck in the writing phase or in the revision process? Or have you “finished” but not gotten the response you wanted out in the world? Are you not sure what comes next? Most of us are better at starting manuscripts than we are at finishing them. But it’s only when we can conceive, create, and bring our projects to fruition that we begin to master the longer form known as a book. Each book we write brings us closer to understanding how to write a book. What phase of the finishing process are you in? And what do you need to cross the finish line and get it out into the world?

Are you ready? Find out more


The Great Shuffle: Ordering a Flash Collection vs. an Anthology

I hear a lot of authors asking for advice on ordering their collections. My first question to them is: Are you ordering an anthology or a collection?

Having done both, I believe what is required is very different.

Firstly let’s get our terminology straight. By anthology I mean a book of stories written by many different authors. The editor of the anthology conceives, solicits, judges, and orders the pieces into the final product. By collection I’m referring to a single-author collection where the author is putting their own stories into one book.

images (3)Ordering an anthology is a little bit like taking a 3rd grade class photo: you gotta get everyone in the picture. You might have pieces that are wildly different. You might have four kids wearing green sweaters. Your job is to make everyone look good. Whether you decide to put all the talls in the back or go boy-girl-boy, you are working with a lot of disparate pieces and are ultimately limited by your materials–your job is to try and place them in the most interesting and pleasing order, showcasing each and creating a solid whole.

When I edited Fast Forward: The Mix Tape back in 2010, I channeled the 1980s “mixtape” style (and we even had reader flip the book halfway through: Side A, Side B). It’s of course not the only way to order an anthology. You might put your most famous authors first. You might chunk the stories by theme, or style or even size (The Incredible Shrinking Story was organized largest to smallest).Mix Tape Cover

But if an anthology is a little bit like a Greatest Hits Collection, then the single author collection is The Concept Album.

I’ve edited four anthologies, so I thought I was all set to order my own collection. But right away I realized there was a far more potent and more dangerous power available to me now. Now I didn’t just have artistic license over the order—I had artistic license over the whole thing. Now I had the possibility of manipulating the actual stories as I built the collection—something that would be a cardinal sin in an anthology. And this is why I’ve come to the conclusion that the mixtape or any other approach that works for an anthology might fall short in a single author collection. In a collection you are also manipulating the vibrations of story next to story to create a greater whole.

Think about it: Anthology readers have no qualms about reading the stories out of order—in fact, we almost expect them to go straight for the Table of Contents, look for their favorite authors, and start there. But the reader of a collection will often enter the book with story #1, and in this way a collection must behave like a novel, enticing the reader to keep turning pages in a way that an anthology doesn’t have to.

I ended up spending nearly as much time ordering my collection as I did writing the pieces themselves, and as I continued to shift and flip my stories, watching for the telltale vibrations to jump the synapses, there was a pliability that had never been available to me when creating an anthology; I now had the creative permission to write the gaps, change the tenses, sync the characters, manipulate the narrators, and otherwise match or contrast the stories as needed. And they began to take on second and third layers of subtext–no longer just individual stories but part of a greater symphony telling an even bigger story that I had never even considered.

A friend of mine told me for her collection she threw all her stories on the floor, picked them up, and that was the order. And I must admit that part of me likes the simplicity and divine randomness of that method.

But I’d like to propose that the act of ordering a collection is as precious as the act of writing it. Writers who are too quick to “get the ordering over with” in their collections might miss a lot of untapped potential in their work. I believe the work of ordering  is just as delicate, just as nuanced. And can be just as revealing.


Nancy Stohlman’s books include the forthcoming flash fiction collection The Vixen Scream and Other Bible Stories (forthcoming 2014), the flash novels The Monster Opera (2013) and Searching for Suzi: a flash novel (2009), and three anthologies of flash including Fast Forward: The Mix Tape (2010), which was a finalist for a 2011 Colorado Book Award. She is a founding member of Fast Forward Press, the creator of The F-Bomb Flash Fiction Reading Series in Denver, and her work has been included in The Best of the Web.

Check out her upcoming Writing Flash Fiction workshop here!