Knowing When to Stop

When to Stop quote
When to Stop Art by Jann Alexander ©2014

Hemingway was notoriously negligent with his drinking, his wives and in the end, his own life, but the one thing he knew something about was writing. Like many famous writers, he had a routine, and it was a good one for him.

“When I am working on a book or a story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write. You read what you have written and, as you always stop when you know what is going to happen next, you go on from there. You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again. You have started at six in the morning, say, and may go on until noon or be through before that. When you stop you are as empty, and at the same time never empty but filling, as when you have made love to someone you love. Nothing can hurt you, nothing can happen, nothing means anything until the next day when you do it again. It is the wait until the next day that is hard to get through.”

—Ernest Hemingway

When I’m having trouble getting myself focused on my writing routine, I refer back to some of the routines of well-known writers, outlined by Maria Popova in The Daily Routines of Famous Writers. Among the many rituals writers follow, Hemingway’s admonishment to “always stop when you know what is going to happen next” is the most actionable bit.

“You always stop when you know what is going to happen next.”   Tweet:

The way I put that sage bit of advice into practice is simple: I do stop when I know where my story is headed next; but more importantly, I commit to continuing from there on the very next day, with the help of my calendar. When I stop working for the day, knowing pretty much what’s going to happen next, I add a short note to my calendar for tomorrow. Something specific, like “Helen’s Story: Ch 15-16.” That’s what keeps me on track in my storyline. By simply eliminating the search for where I left off, I’ve guaranteed myself that I can get right back into my writing the next day. In fact, it makes me want to get right back into it, through the magic of already knowing the next steps.

Next Steps

When I’m adding some research to my next steps for tomorrow, I’ll make a note of that on my calendar, too (like “Find TexNewMex border photos 2005”); that becomes another reinforcing cue to me for the next day’s work.

It all comes down to commitment; we writers are a committed bunch (or maybe some of us should be committed), but we aren’t always able to get right to the heart of our work each day. It’s not from a lack of desire. It’s more from a lack of framework. Creating that framework is what all the famous writers were so good at. Perhaps that’s even what enabled them to become great writers. So, perhaps, can we. 

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What are your writing rituals? How have you developed them?

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6 thoughts on “Knowing When to Stop

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  1. Great post Jann. You inspire! We all write….whether we are “writers” or not. I begin by simply writing a few sentences….thoughts, etc. and always, it turns out to be more than just the minimum requirement I set on myself. And I include color, doodles, sketches….usually while I am having my morning coffee.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The best compliment you could give me, Maria, “You inspire!” Thanks. You’re so right about how we all write, and how it leads to other creative action like your doodles, sketches, etc and then on to more ideas. Thanks for your feedback.


    1. Rest assured, Norma, we all fight with our schedules, and even when we’re not, we’re all members of the human race so we all encounter setbacks, tiny or large. Glad this post could provide some encouragement, and thanks for saying so.


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