We’ve all been there. Maybe you started #NaNoWriMo in a sprint. Maybe you awoke one morning full of inspiration for a new novel. Maybe you’re 25,000 words in, and the plot just isn’t working. No matter the start of a novel, we’ve all been ready to bury it before its time.
I was facing this dilemma not too long ago while working on my first middle grade manuscript. I had started it in a frenzy of inspiration. I had outlined the plot. I had written over half of it. And, then, I…stopped.
Through a stroke of luck, I stumbled across Jon Acuff’s delightful book Finish. While the book isn’t specific to writing, it’ll have you glancing at your neglected work-in-progress with shame and, by the end, a second wind of motivation.
A fast read, it’s worth buying or checking out from your local library. To whet your book-appetite, here a few (among many) lessons I brought to my (now-finished) manuscript.
Expect the doldrums
If you have a manuscript (or three) languishing in the bowels of your hard drive, cast off any shame and know that this is normal.
We all start things we don’t finish. If you’ve ever made a New Year’s resolution, this probably isn’t news to you. I’ve been promising myself I’m going to start a garden next year for 8 years. Still, when a work-in-progress moves from inspired to abandoned, it can feel like a personal failure.
This is where knowledge is power. Like true love, the course of great achievement ne’er did run smooth. That your progress has stalled doesn’t mean your concept is flawed or you have some gene that makes you unfit for novel-writing. It means that you’re human.
And that you’re about halfway through book.
Your brain lies to you
If you are, in fact, human, you likely have a human brain. The thing about human brains is that they’re very good at making up stories and convincing you that they’re true. The story might be that cookies are an excellent breakfast or that everyone hates you…or that you should really be doing something other than finishing your book.
Your brain is going to find lots of really interesting things you should write RIGHT AT THIS VERY MOMENT. None of these things will be your book, and they will all seem to be the most brilliant thing you’ve ever thought of. In fact, you’ll probably win the Man Booker Prize if you just abandon your work-in-progress and embark on the new idea.
Unfortunately, this, like cookies-for-breakfast may taste good in the moment, but will leave you exhausted and unsatisfied later. Your new idea may indeed be brilliant, but if you embark on something new every time you hit a roadblock, you’ll never finish anything. And, that–to put it precisely–stinks.
Instead, do what Acuff tells you to do: write down your brilliant idea and promise yourself you can start on it as soon as you finish what you’re working on.
Find your hiding places
We’ve established that you will want to quit and that your brain will try to lure you into doing so, but what can we do to finish?
Acuff lays out a bunch of strategies in the book. I’m going to focus on the one that made the biggest difference for me: finding your hiding places. This doesn’t mean to build a pillow fort where you can hide from your kids (though that might help too). It means that you need to identify where and how you waste time and stop doing it.
If your brain can’t trick you into starting some new big endeavor, it’s going lead you to lots of tiny time-sucks instead. There are the obvious ones, like Facebook or TV binges. Blocking websites can help with these.
But then, there are less obvious ones–the ones you can justify to yourself as advancing you toward your goals. Perhaps, you’ve been tinkering with your author website for days on end, or posting on Twitter to build your following. Maybe you’re guest blogging. These things might seem like they aren’t hiding places because they’re writing-related, but are they truly getting you closer to your goals?
Acuff suggests asking yourself if you could explain to someone else how an activity gets you closer to your intended goal. If you can’t, it’s probably a hiding place.
For instance, it’s perhaps no surprise that I’m writing this post when I’m roughly 60% through my current work-in-progress…The struggle is real.
What books or tips have helped you finish your writing projects? Let me know in the comments!