Tag Archives: finishing

A Tip for Finishing

Having worked with many writers over the years, I’ve noticed that no matter what most motives us to write–personal, professional, spiritual, or emotional reasons–all writers have difficulty getting free of concerns about how their work will be received.

Some of this is justified and positive, of course. It keeps us from publishing work that isn’t up to our high standards. But standards differ, obviously, even amongst reputable publishers, so this isn’t merely about fixing errors and ensuring the sentences all flow.

The bigger concern that can be debilitating if you don’t learn to manage it, is will this prove I’m inferior and unworthy? This is self-doubt and it’s a universal for every writer, at least those who aren’t in denial. We know we’re inferior to many, many people, even writers already writing in our category, or at least we should know that. People who don’t know that end up embarrassing themselves. 

This is why I posted a question at the Higher Purpose Writers Facebook page: if no one would ever know you’d written this, would you still write it?

Sometimes the only way a writer can get their story out is to write it as fiction or to withhold their name. For more confident writers, the only way to give the story the care it deserves is to consider whether you’d still write this if no one would ever know it was yours.

The higher purpose is a matter of becoming as clear a channel for the story as possible. In other words, getting out of the way of the work. Of course, it needs your voice and your particular view and style. But you have to remove yourself first to know if writing it is necessary.

I know this will be controversial. Inevitably, some writers feel judged and resist taking writing this seriously. They feel this as pressure, as a “rule” to control their free enjoyment of writing. And if that’s you, by all means disregard this advice. But it may also be you’re in the more confident camp and need to consider refining more than the result of your work and start with the initial motivation.

Writing well is not merely about using the right words, the right sentences, considering the proper length, and so on. It’s not just about overcoming the many obstacles–physical, emotional, educational, situation, social. It’s not even about what your parents, siblings, spouse, kids, or friends did or didn’t do. All of them have failed to support your potential in specific, unforgivable ways.

But the real point here is you must not skip over any of these considerations. As you keep showing up to practice, you’ll come to the truth that you’re responsible for the outcome, and so you deserve the most grief for any failure or success. That statement will definitely be controversial. But this is why removing yourself from any shame or acclaim that may follow writing this is so necessary.

Beneath all the lesser purposes and considerations for writing is the real higher purpose. Don’t stop writing just because you don’t know what that is yet. The point is to tell your story regardless of the result or reception. It happened and it mattered, and so it exists and deserves the honor of your speaking it. Don’t let the blankness win.

Whatever you have to do to remove yourself from the picture, to get out of its way, resolve to speak the story, however poorly. You know if I’m saying this for you right now. So you’ll know it’s what you have to do. It’s for love, for freedom…

For the higher purpose,

Mick

Writer Pitfalls: When You’re Too Ambishish to Fishish

The hardest part about writing a novel is to fishish. 

– Ernest Hemmingway

I began this novel when our oldest daughter was 1. I’m still not done. In a month, she’s headed to high-school. 

When she was done eating, she’d wave her hands and say, “Fishished!” She wasn’t, of course, but that didn’t matter. She had important things to do. And only a monster could say no to that face.

I wish I could tell God I’m fishished with the book today. I’ve got way too much on my plate and I can’t see how I’ll ever get to it.

Sometimes, maybe many times, I have this automatic response: I don’t want to get all burdened with it again today.

And then of course, immediately comes the guilt.

If I don’t show up to write, if I avoid it and let other more immediately gratifying things take its place, aren’t I abandoning my readers? What else would you call that? Sometimes, most times, I don’t realize that’s what I’m doing. I simply don’t want to get pulled into the vortex of unsolvable problems again, this twisted, complex puzzle of thinking through all my characters’ struggles and concerns, and how to form them into a cohesive, engaging story.

So much about writing is so hard. The truth about the characters and their best way forward is hidden beneath so much good but common stuff. Choosing what to share is hard—what even is the criteria?—and also how to keep it all straight and keep from getting frustrated with the paltry progress. We’re all on our own in figuring this out and deciding what’s most important (and most interesting) to share. It’s a chore just to keep looking, keep showing up day after day.

Margaret Atwood said, “a word after a word after a word is power.” And Neil Gaiman said, “This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until it’s done. It’s that easy and that hard.” I like best what Steinbeck said, “Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day. It helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.” He wrote that to himself in his own writing journal for The Grapes of Wrath, which went on to win a Pulitzer, of course.

I learned this lesson at the kitchen table in junior high when I had 8 classes and homework in each one. My mom moved the stack of books off to where I couldn’t see them, and suddenly I wasn’t thinking about all I hadn’t done yet.

That was how I finished.

We’ll never know what we could have found if we’d only kept going. New revelations always come. We know this but we get overwhelmed. The solutions will come, and they’ll come in the familiar but also from the wholly new as well. A completely different bush will flower in the wilderness. But we won’t see it until we’ve worked to get right up next to it.

We’ve got to just focus on what we can do in a day or we’ll never find the way out. The scope of the vision and the work yet to do is always too overwhelming.

And Hemmingway could have been a bit more encouraging. Rick Riordian seems to have realized this when he said, “the best part about writing a book is finishing it.” That, I can believe. I just don’t know how I’ll finish yet.

But maybe that’s okay. Maybe I don’t need to contain everything—where would I put it anyway? What’s truer than all the books that say “you’re already enough” is, what we already have is enough to get what else we need. We’ve got to know the truth, have faith, that all we need is stamina, the great, irreplaceable persistence—and what we don’t have yet, we will get it when we need it. Or we don’t need it.

Maybe the problem is related to perfectionism. Perfection is a mirage I’ll keep falling for until I accept I’m going to end up with a book that’s an oversimplification and doesn’t live up to all my hopes and dreams. It will be less than that and different than I expected, but that will be good enough regardless of what I or anyone else wanted. I’ve got to release expectations and appease myself with achieving merely a caricature of reality.

A book is always less than real life, and that’s a big part of its appeal and value: its very limitations. Refinement means reduction.

 Can I accept that and give up trying to fit every idea in just because I like it?

Maybe every writer has to work to the point of failing to manage all they’ve dreamed in order to know which elements / storyline / theme is the one absolute necessity. Maybe at the very end of our abilities is the balance between what’s new and what’s conventional. Accepting limitation is part of the journey, like the end of a favorite story of mine, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” Let go the bright dream of perfection. Happiness and your very survival will demand it. You can’t have everything. Some won’t get pinned down this time or maybe ever. It’ll get away from you; that’s okay. Let it go. Decide to be okay never gaining what you hoped and maybe you’ll finally learn to receive something better.

And who knows? It could be that’s the only way a writer ever knows they’re fishished.

For the higher purpose,

Mick