That’s the goal, isn’t it? To finish, to sit back and say: Yes, this is DONE.
I’m not talking about finishing a draft of something (short story, novel, play, painting – you get the idea), although that absolutely IS its own awe-inspiring feat.
I mean finishing to completion, realizing you’ve done all you can to say, a manuscript. You’ve toiled and rewritten, edited and deleted, you’ve pounded your desk in triumph and cried into your coffee. You’ve cycled through euphoria and depression, you’ve persevered and come out the other side.
You’re ready to share your creation with others. Perhaps this means pursuing traditional publishing á la querying agents, or going DIY and self-publishing. But the point is, you’re ready. Your work is ready.
Some days this feat feels attainable, and other days (um, most days) it feels like trying to touch the moon.
The world is full of finishers. They’re all around me. From the author blogs I follow to the lovely women I write with on Wednesdays.
This is a good thing, an inspiring thing, but if I’m not careful, it can turn ugly – in my brain. That’s when doubt and fear try to wrestle me to the ground. Voices snake into my ears, tunnel into my heart. They say things like this:
How can you call yourself a writer?
You’ve been working on your novel for how many years?
Look around, everyone is ahead of you by miles, light years. You might as well quit now.
Once you start down this road, it snowballs fast. One of my favorite bloggers, Chuck Wendig, of terribleminds.com, describes the feeling in a post titled, “There’s This Thing That Happens Sometimes.” Here’s a snippet:
“You step onto this grease-slick slope, sliding down through the shadow of envy, doubt, uncertainty. You feel smaller and smaller as you fall farther and farther. You tumble face-first into the revelation of your own inadequacy, your grotesque and unconquerable imperfection, your worst failures… ”
His advice? Step away from the pit. As soon as you sense it, the second you smell it. Really, it’s all you can do.
Because if you don’t you might get stuck, and if you’re stuck you’re not writing, and if you’re not writing you won’t finish.
Thinking about the ever present quandary of pit falling versus goal finishing inspired me to come up with my own list of advice. While certainly not foolproof, this list has served me well thus far in my attempt at finishing my novel.
5 Ways to Finish
1. Be selective with your recreational reading.
Read books, blogs, and articles that inspire you, offer tangible advice, that buoy. Stay away from the sinkers. When I say “sinker” I mean what sinks you. There may be nothing inherently wrong with that person’s words, in fact, they may buoy someone else, but if it makes you question or second guess yourself, it’s best to step away from the book, blog, Twitter feed, or whatever. Just STOP. Use your reading time for sharpening your skills or boosting your confidence, or – hey, here’s a crazy thought – enjoying yourself.
For me, examples of this is devouring posts on Positive Writer (the name says it all) and Writer Unboxed. I’d love to hear what it is for you.
2. Zip it, lock it, put it in your pocket.
That’s a phrase my six-year-old daughter says, and I kind of love it. Besides saying it to both my kids on a regular basis, I say it to myself.
What does this have to do with finishing? Here’s what: Don’t talk about your work. Too much. Or at all.
Maybe I’m suspicious, but I find when I talk too much about the story or novel I’m working on, the magic fades. It’s like a balloon slowly leaking air, I don’t even realize it’s happening until it’s too late.
Sometimes it’s crucial to talk shop, especially when trying to untangle a knot, or brainstorm an important plot element, but for the most part, keep it to yourself. When you feel a rise in excitement and feel like you’re going to bubble over, instead of talking about it, write.
3. Set realistic goals.
I try to keep my expectations and goals reasonable – as in doable. Otherwise my self-esteem takes a nose dive when I inevitably fall short of say, a five-page-a-day kind of goal. Two pages a day? Much more doable (for me).
I’m not saying sell yourself short, but figure out a daily or weekly goal that works for your lifestyle and do everything in your power to stick to it. When life – inevitably – backs up into your writing time, brush yourself off and start again. It will be harder to get back on track. Dani Shapiro likens the spurned page to a jilted lover (see #5), but if your goals are on the reasonable side, it may be a faster recovery.
4. Indulge in some fantasy.
Um, I’m talking about visualization here. Don’t get any funny ideas.
For me, the ultimate fantasy is seeing my book on a bookstore shelf, or better yet, a display table. (Hey, I worked in a bookstore after college and spent much of my restocking time daydreaming about this.)
This kind of indulgence is a nice counterbalance to a writer’s usual modus operandi, which resembles a huge twitching ball of anxiety and self-doubt.
A little time spent fantasizing is fine, but beware of relying too heavily on these lovely interludes when you should be writing. FYI (to myself), nothing actually gets accomplished while you imagine yourself alone in a room surrounded by hundreds of boxes of your published novel.
5. Don’t Stop. No matter what.
Maybe you haven’t written in a few days, weeks, or months. Perhaps even years. It doesn’t matter. The thing about writing is that it’s always there waiting for you. I love this quote from Dani Shapiro’s Still Writing:
“Writing is hard. We resist, we procrastinate, we veer off course. But we have this tool, this ability to begin again.”
When we stray, the return can be tough. The longer we wait, the harder it is. Shapiro also acknowledges this, saying, “The return won’t be easy… The page turns from us like a wounded lover. We will have to win it over, coax it out of hiding.”
True enough. But on the upside? It’s always possible to begin again… and to finish.
Maybe you’re a finisher, or in the thick of it like me. Either way, I’d love to know if any of these tips resonate with you, or what you do to keep yourself on track.
This was a great informative post, dear Dana!
That book sounds so good to me! 😊
Thanks so much my friend! 🙂
Great post Dana! I love your five tips. I have to say I too don’t like talking too much or sharing about my WIP or other writing projects. I am definitely a ‘finisher’ – even if it takes me months or years. I never just leave or forget a story I started though sometimes I wish I could 🙂 I can relate to Chick Wendig’s words…
Thanks Yolanda! I knew I wasn’t the only one who gets all tight-lipped about writing stuff. I had the funniest encounter with a Starbucks employee the other day, well funny to me, he probably thought I was nuts. He very nicely asked what I was writing and I looked him square in the eye and was like, “I can’t tell you” – like I’m some kind of secret agent or something! It’s not like I think my work is so important, I’m just not willing to spill the beans or ruin the magic.
Yay for you being a finisher, I’ll add you to my list 🙂
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These are such great tips, Dana, and all so true. Envy and self-doubt IS a total pit. There’s one person’s Facebook feed that always makes me feel about what I’m writing. (It’s not her fault, really it’s my fault for looking.) I know I need to hide her!
Thank you so much Nina! Yes, what a pit it is. I still have to skirt around the edges. I recently unfollowed a perfectly lovely author on Twitter because of it, and I’m sure I will do it again here and there. You just don’t know what’s going to trigger the doubt. I read plenty of awesome and inspiring and successful writers (you included!) who I admire to the edge of envy, but for whatever reason I can still read them and love them and admire them and not want to hurl myself off a cliff.
Hide the Facebook lady and see how you feel. I’ve unfollowed blogs and then started up again at a different point in my life and was pleased to see the (negative) effect had gone away.
Love you and your writing, and will hold whatever doubt arises in check so I can always keep reading your words 🙂 is that a weird compliment or what?!
Great post, Dana! Self-doubt seems to come with the territory when you’re a writer. And, it can feel like you’re battling “everyone else.” Some of the best advice I ever received in life, that also applies to writing, is that you can’t base your own timeline on those of others. You’ve got your own timeline. You do what you can and take it day by day. So long as you keep moving forward, you’ll reach your goals eventually. 🙂
Thanks Scott, it really does come with the territory. I think as I mature (um, age), I can see more clearly what I need to do to protect myself from drowning in it.
I love the advice that you can’t compare timelines, and will take it!
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I am so glad to have found you (after you found me through Nina!).
Much of this post takes the words right from my mouth. Or fingers, so to speak. (Type?)
I set an unrealistic goal for myself in October to write 5 pages a day on the days my kids were in school. I began with a seed of an idea which I decided to develop without a clear “end of the story” in mind. made it 190 pages before realizing I was simply spilling out sentences to meet a goal; my plot was not compelling enough to warrant the number of words I’d reached.
Sure, I had more than half an manuscript, but it was not my best work.
So, I hit the pause button (not the STOP button; I am still writing) and have spent this week ruminating. I need to find the THING that will complete the elevator pitch. I need inspiration. And when I find it, I will “zip it, lock it, put it in my pocket.”
Bottom line: I relate to what I’ve read here so far and am subscribing to your blog so I can follow your journey. Consider me your newest cheerleader as you continue on toward your end goal.
(But I have Bird by Bird – and Still Writing! – so please save that lovely book for someone else if I happen to win :-))
Kindred spirits! I just wrote you a love letter via email 🙂 Please know, when I say love I mean the platonic kind of writerly love.
Thank you so much for your comment, and for sharing your story about your five-page-day-goal gone wrong. I’m so sorry it didn’t work (in the way you wanted), I can only imagine that must have hurt when you realized it. I have totally been there – actually I was there just a few months ago, when I realized the novel I was rewriting (for the who knows how many times) was being forced forward. My page count was rising, but the plot wasn’t. I stopped and mused (and probably cried, maybe ate my way through a bag of gluten free cookies) and then quite recently a switch flipped (fingers crossed) and I’m hoping it is the THING.
What a mind @*&%$ writing can be!!
However, if writing can bring people together like it seems to do at times like these, I’m all for it 🙂
Great tips. I really struggle with setting attainable goals… I am consistently overshooting what I can do and it’s like I never learn. I’m a runner and I used to be like that with running, too… It took me years and years to figure out what my body can handle on a consistent basis. I suppose I’m still a rookie when it comes to writing and I just need to keep making mistakes and eventually I will get it, as I did with running. I have a 2.5 year old and a 6 month old who make my life a bit unpredictable. Just as I was about to start an early morning writing session today, my toddler fell out of bed on her head. The rest of the morning was crying and snuggling, no writing for me!
What a fascinating and apt comparison! Running is all about stamina and making sure not to expend all your energy in the beginning… I bet you could write a great post comparing the two.
Having such young children is definitely more challenging, I remember just coming up for air when my son was 6 months… before that I was basically in hibernation, and even then I didn’t do that much until he was about a year. But everyone is different of course.
However, even now, life happens (oh the head bumping is like a regular thing around here for my 3 year old!) and you just have to roll with it, or better yet, cuddle 🙂
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Dana this one gets to me when I look at all the projects I have piled up and unfinished. Next year I will need to set those realistic goals. Thank you.
Oh, I know all about piles of unfinished projects. But I’m hoping the new year will be the Year of Completion 🙂
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