Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Finish that Book!

A popular advice columnist on salon.com, Cary Tennis found himself stalled when it came to his literary projects. A glance around showed him he wasn't the only one. Many of his writer friends and colleagues seemed to need the same help in completing their own work. 

As a music critic, Cary had no problem finishing his short work on deadline, yet worked on the same novel fitfully over eighteen years. Co-writer Danielle Morton is a journalist who has written fifteen books as an uncredited ghost writer. Yet she also had a beloved writing project that went unfinished for two years in the background. She could never seem to complete the proposal. 

Within three months both authors were able to complete their projects. Since 2013, Cary has been teaching the FINISHING SCHOOL method. His class meets once a week for two hours. During this time writers "identify tasks related to their overall goal and map out specific times during the week to accomplish those tasks" (xi). They then paired up with partners who they would text as soon as they started to write so they would be accountable to someone for their commitment.

Do you have a project that's been sitting in a drawer that perhaps you need to revisit? Cary and Danelle address six emotional pitfalls that they believe keep most writers from finishing their work. They are: doubt, shame, yearning, fear, judgement, and arrogance. My favorite section was on doubt, so I wanted to share some of my thoughts as I was reading. 


What writer who has been in process for more than five days hasn't struggled with doubt? Or as Cary calls it "Doubt Masquerading as Self-knowledge." By calling ourselves a terrible writer we are internalizing what cognitive therapists call global labeling or globalizing. He states that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, affecting our moods, feelings and eventually the quality of our work. 

What do I not want to feel?

Rejection can be a struggle in my life most when I am not pressing into who I am in Christ. 

What don't you want to feel? Uncertain whether you will ever be published? Doubt about whether your journey will look the way you expect? Do you struggle with a desire to be understood or appreciated in your writing? Is it the feelings that come up when you are waiting for a response from an editor or agent? The feelings during your writing process itself?

"Real feelings make good writing." (9) Simple but so true. And comforting to think that even those icky feelings I have when I get contest results or a rejection can be used to grow my writing life. Instead of letting doubt short circuit our writing, the authors encourage us to use doubt as a springboard.

He encourages writing about why you feel this doubt. I did this, journaling two specific experiences and found it helpful. (I highly suggest it if you find doubt still plagues you at times). 

Do you ever struggle with I'll never get published thoughts? The authors suggest perspective.

First, anything can happen. This reminds me of a favorite childhood show, where Mr. Rogers told viewers just because we fear something doesn't mean it will happen. When I was a child, I struggled with the thought of losing a parent. By the same token, just because we fear not getting published, doesn't mean that is the end outcome. Surprise successes do happen.

Second, contemplate what if you don't get published? What will you do? How bad will you feel and what will it actually mean?

If you never get published traditionally does that mean your writing life is a failure? He talks about building small successes? Maybe you work at getting published in an anthology first, then in a literary journal...

I think wrestling with some of these questions is a good beginning to finishing that book sitting in your nightstand!

Has doubt been a struggle in your writing life? If so, what has helped?

**Thanks to Penguin for providing a copy of FINISHING SCHOOL for the purpose of a blog post.**

Julia Reffner is a writer, reviewer, blogger, and homeschool mama living in central Virginia.


Glynis said...

Thanks for a great post, Julie. I have a couple of half-baked projects that need to just be dusted off and evaluated. I've only ever finished one (terrible) manuscript, so I really do need to learn to go the distance. I'll have to check this book out. Interesting ideas. Thanks!

kaybee said...

Julia, I think all of us experience doubt at some point, unless we're out-of-the box successes. What I do is to keep an encouragement file, and look back on when I got it RIGHT. And most of all, go to God, who put both the gift and longing in me.
Great post.
Kathy Bailey

Julia M. Reffner said...

GLYNIS, I really enjoyed this book and it definitely gave me some ideas to work through the emotional as well as practical struggles of finishing a book.

KAYBEE, An encouragement file is a great idea! And yes, going to the source of all things!