The Last Ten Percent


Why is it that the last ten percent of anything requires ninety percent of the effort? Finishing any project, whether it’s writing or something else, threatens to nullify everything I’ve done up to that point. A reader isn’t interested in a story that’s extremely close to being done; nor would a friend be excited about wearing a hand-knitted sweater with three-quarters of a left sleeve. If I don’t finish, I’ve wasted the other ninety percent. So here I sit, with a handful of short stories that are just about there, only not quite. Why is it so difficult to finish?

Sometimes I run out of time. When I start something like a thorough house cleaning in advance of guests’ arrival, I’m often overambitious, tackling the woodwork and the dust on the crystal droplets of the chandelier. At some point, after admiring my reflection in the streak-free bathroom mirror, I look at the clock and realize there’s still clutter covering the kitchen counters. TIme to start throwing things in drawers. Some stories feel like that too. I’ve set my sights on sending a story to a contest. As the hours tick toward the deadline, the loose pieces of the story start getting thrown in metaphorical drawers. Hitting the “submit” button brings closure and a sense of relief, but rarely first prize. I end up editing the story yet again before submitting it elsewhere.

Sometimes I’m just bored, tired of going over the same paragraphs, the same sentences, and feeling they just aren’t going anywhere. There was something in the story that made me want to write it in the first place, but I can’t seem to find the level of enthusiasm to sustain me until the end. A couple of times I’ve tried to go back to the inspiration for the story, to see if I could throw out everything else and start again. For some reason, that hasn’t worked. My mind wants to travel back down the same path. So I set aside that story and start a new one. I have an inventory of “set aside” stories that I like and want to finish polishing, get them just the way I want them, but my attention span just isn’t that good anymore. Too much distraction, too accustomed to instant gratification. The way we live now isn’t conducive to sticking with one thing through to the end.

Today I’m determined to finish rewriting a story I wrote at Writers in the Heartland┬áSeptember 2011. It’s been through a few drafts and two or three workshops. It’s been rejected by three journals. I love the characters and the themes. I really want the story to be published. Somehow I need to push through the last ten percent. Today’s the day. I need to do it. It’s simple as that. Today I want it more than I did yesterday.