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.
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.