It’s Time to Finish Your Book

January 4, 2022 § 8 Comments

Is this the year you recommit to a project that’s languished, unfinished, for months or years? The one where you think:

one day…
when I can dig out my notes…
and have a few solid hours to really dive in…

Newsflash: Your calendar will never magically pop up “Today You Can Focus Entirely on That One Project.” To finish that book rusting in the back of your mind, you must actively bring it forward.

First, pick one. (You know you have more than one.)

Which project gets you closer to a big life goal? Or envision boarding a lifeboat, where you’re allowed to bring only one manuscript. You probably already know in your heart which one gets that seat. Part of every artist loves to dither, saying, Yeah, but if I work on that other thing, maybe… That dithering part of us is basically a three-year-old negotiating between a sundress or their superhero suit for preschool today. Mother Creativity doesn’t care, as long as we get out the door.

  • Pick the one you’re excited about, especially if it’s your first book.
  • Pick the one that’s most culturally relevant right now, because then you’ll be able to engage in public conversations that help shape your work.
  • Pick the one that makes the most money the fastest.
  • Pick the “book of your heart,” the one you’d feel saddest about not having finished if tomorrow you stopped writing forever.

Whatever you pick, stay committed.

Once you’ve chosen, your other works-in-progress will clamor for attention. Every project sounds more fun, more interesting, more exciting than sitting down to what you’ve chosen. This is normal. Your brain is afraid of a big undertaking without guaranteed success, so it generates distractions. Stay committed. Write down shiny new ideas, but move on. Remind your brain they’ll be safe until you come back. The amount of great ideas we have and are capable of executing far exceed the number of hours available to work.

Restarting doesn’t have to mean from the beginning. You don’t have to rethink the whole project or make a huge plan or set aside two weeks when your decks are clear (let me just pencil that in for never).

Start small, by “touching” the manuscript almost every day. Don’t sternly assign yourself a word count yet—just take a walk or a shower and actively think about the story. Open up the file and read one page. Tweak a couple of paragraphs. Make a playlist that brings you back to the mood and voice. Keep touching your book, gently renewing your interest and energy until you’re ready to write. Ask your project: What’s holding me back? Do you need more information? An outline of your story so far? A writing buddy for supportive coworking? Therapy?

You don’t actually have to be “inspired.” Inspiration is like walking into a factory, seeing conveyor belts and drill presses and steam generators and saying, “I could make something with this!” Someone still has to clock in and start work. Give it your best try for a week:

  • Book a Zoom or in-person date with a writing buddy, or join a co-writing session (some links below). Showing up for other people is often easier than showing up for ourselves.
  • Use a prompt within your book. For example, every new sentence starts with the next letter of the alphabet. Or imagine an elevator stopping at a particular numbered floor—write about the main character at that age.
  • Write the book jacket copy or synopsis to clarify the story in your head, or summarize chapters as if for a proposal.
  • Write about what you’re going to write: Scene with Sandy and me in the kitchen, when I realized she was dating my ex and it made me really uncomfortable. She had just dyed her hair blonde and I was alphabetizing the spice rack so I wouldn’t say she looked awful. She said…

And before you know it, you’re writing the scene instead of about the scene. Or at least getting down the first draft by telling the story to yourself. You’ll fix the narrative in the second draft.

Showing up to your project whether or not you’re inspired creates energy and momentum. The most successful writers I know are not waiting for the conveyor belt to bring them the next widget—they’re unpacking parts with no instructions, rolling up their sleeves and tinkering. Working without inspiration can feel weird and awkward and not like your normal happy routine of writing when circumstances are just right (rarely!). See what it feels like to do whatever it takes, to revise or rebuild or seek help with your story. Finishing a book will call for your nervous, unsettled, tedious and painful time—and when you’re done, it will be worth it.

Join me for mindset shifting and step-by-step goal-setting January 12th. Register here for This Year You’ll Finish Your Book (recording available for all registrants).

Allison K Williams is Brevity‘s Social Media Editor and the author of Seven Drafts: Self-Edit Like a Pro from Blank Page to Book.

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§ 8 Responses to It’s Time to Finish Your Book

  • Janet Alcorn says:

    “Showing up to your project whether or not you’re inspired creates energy and momentum.” Yep. What’s that quote about how inspiration finds you working? Sometimes it’s a slog, sometimes the words come easy, but I can’t know before I start which kind of day it will be.

  • You always get me going. Thank you for your common sense and assurance that starting small works, that there are strategies for overcoming reluctance and fear. [I have two writing goals for 2022: revising a novel and illustrating a picture book I wrote ten years ago. Next year… next year, memoir. I will need help, and I know where to find it—you!]

  • 1reward says:

    Very interesting…and encouraging

  • william vandegrift says:

    Yes! Yes! Yes!

  • stacyeholden says:

    The basketball player Dr. J has a great quote: Being a professional means doing what you love…even when you don’t feel like doing it. I think sometimes we get caught up in our desire for creative inspiration, forgetting that we just need to put in enough reps to get better day by day.

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