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Fragments and Shrapnel: Unfinished Symphony

Franz Schubert has the Unfinished Symphony, Mark Twain took 20 years to write The Mysterious Stranger and most cities have unfinished buildings or structures (see: Nowhere, Bridge To) that started out as a great idea but never made it past that point.

Like most people, I too, have my own unfinished symphony. It is composed of half written stories, lists of ideas, unfinished projects and a shelf full of books I keep meaning to read. Lately, my projects have been taking up too much space in my brain and the orchestra is beginning to play out of tune. I decided now is the time to do something about it.

The first movement in this symphony is dusty and cumbersome and I call it my To Read Shelf. This special place on my bookcase is full of titles that seemed like a good idea but were put aside as more intriguing books came into my life. These books range from Russian literature to Don Quixote, to titles written by and about presidents, science and religion and other assorted “light” topics. These tomes can’t be read before bed or while I’m on the train trying to drown out the screaming babies. They need quiet rooms, notebooks and Wikipedia for me to fully absorb them.

The second movement starts with trumpets blaring but quickly dissolves into quiet beeping noises only heard when the battery on my cell phone is getting low. This was going to be a fabulous series highlighting all of the quirky movie theaters in Portland. I called it Beyond The Megaplex. Check out the TWO articles I wrote here and here. I came up with the idea at an old job during a fit of frustration and anger. I borrowed some expensive company letterhead and made a list of article ideas and other creative ways I could express myself. I still like the idea (writing articles, not stealing company letterhead) but I never got around to finishing. It’s been quietly nagging me for a few months now and I need to take action.

Then there’s the last movement in my personal symphony. It is slow and pondering and a little embarrassing. I have a whole pile of unfinished stories and undeveloped book ideas taking up space on my hard drive. Elizabeth Gilbert once said in an interview that if you don’t take advantage of the ideas given to you they might go to someone else. I would certainly hate to read my idea in someone else’s story because I let go.

Just admitting to the world that I need to finish these projects is a good first step for me and developing these guidelines will help me stay on track. So, as the good Virgo that I am, I sat down and came up with these guidelines to complete my tasks:

To Read Shelf: They say that you have to read 100 pages of a book to really get into it. With that in mind, I created this list on Good Reads to keep track of the books and my progress. As you can see these are not fluffy beach-reading titles. I will give myself 100 pages to get into each book and if I’m not enjoying them or interested, they will be sold back to Powell’s or donated to the library. Time line: One year to complete.

Beyond The Megaplex: I still have the list I made on the expensive company letterhead so now it’s just a matter of follow through. My goal is to pick one or two theaters a month and write polished pieces about each one. I might even drag a friend or random husband with me to get their feedback. My eventual goal with these reviews is to sell them to a local publication or travel magazine. Time line: Finish the articles by the end of the year. There is no reason, except for maybe poverty, that I can’t have it completed.

Unfinished Stories: Right now I have the workings of four stories in different stages of completion. I have parsed out the ones that can wait but there are at least two that need my attention. I have all the editing and supportive resources lined up, I just need to put but my butt in a seat long enough to string a few sentences together. When asked for his advice on writing, author Neil Gaiman replied: You write and you finish what you write. Time line: Sit down every day and write for 15 minutes on Book #1. Try and have a first rough draft of each chapter done every week. Present the chapters to my bi-monthly writers group and get feedback to polish the story. Complete the first draft of the book in one year.

From now until I finish, I will check in every month and blog about my progress and adjust the schedule as need be. This project has given me hope and motivation to work toward something I’ve been putting aside for too long.

How can YOU use the same tactics and guidelines to complete your own Unfinished Symphony? Let me know how you progress.

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About Anna Alexander

I am a freelance writer and producer living in the Pacific Northwest. My husband and I live with our cat Grendel who lets us pay his mortgage.

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