I was watching the documentary “J.K. Rowling – A Year in the Life” (2007) the other day and there’s a scene in there where we watch as Rowling writes the final chapter of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. She’s locked herself in a hotel room to write the “crucial final chapters,” we’re told.
There’s a point at which she looks through the last page of the manuscript on her computer, adds a few random words, smiles and says, “Yeah, I think I’ve finished.”
That was such a manufactured-for-TV moment. I imagine Rowling, after the cameras have been shut off, going to her desk and saying, “Finally. Now let me just mess with that last page a bit. Those two sentences up there didn’t quite work.” Or perhaps she finished it before the cameras were turned on and we got the satisfied leaning back against the chair.
Because let’s be honest, in real life, that’s not how it happens.
In the real world, finishing anything is a non-event. It’s a momentary pause in the middle of your day. And for most of us, finishing is not a celebration; merely the first step in a series of very many steps. I’ve finished a few non-fiction books now and I don’t ever even mention when they’re done. With the novel, though, it was a different story. I’d been working on it for so long and I’d been struggling through it so very much that even my neighbors had taken to asking about it every time they saw me. My husband went out to get milk a few weeks ago and he came back and said, “I just got asked on the street if you’ve finished the book yet. This is now a community project.”
But, even despite all that drama, when I finally did finish, it was a non-event for both me and my husband. I went downstairs to tell Sam that I had sent it off to my agent and he said, “Oh cool. So, what should we have for dinner?”
Here’s the thing about writing books: You get to slog for years and years and then, if you’re lucky, every few years you get a tiny bit of outside success or praise. If you don’t actually enjoy the process of writing the book, you’re not going to like this life. If you live for those once-every-few-years moments, you’re going to be in a world of pain.
This is especially important because far too many writers claim that they do not like writing but like having written. That’s a catchy phrase and I can certainly get behind the sentiment. My six-year novel has been no walk in the park. But had I not enjoyed the actual process of writing, this last year in particular would either have been very miserable or I would have given up altogether.
As you know, I’ve just launched a new course: FINISH THAT DAMN BOOK. I’m very excited about this course—I think it’s one of my best, if not THE best—because I know that what I’m saying in this course is not something most writers are teaching or being taught. I don’t believe you are going to finish your book unless you learn to enjoy the process and reaching that point is neither complicated nor difficult to attain.
I also happen to be very achievement focused and so one of the things I do for myself, and what I teach in the course, is to create wins on a near-daily basis. The novel may indeed take six years, but I can self publish non-fiction annually to give myself success. I have specific reasons for taking the traditional publishing route with my fiction, but often I won’t wait for someone’s acceptance in order to publish. I give myself success by publishing smaller works, launching e-courses, and working on book proposals that may or may not sell. I’m always working on something behind the scenes and I can tell you, what you see is only 10% of the work I actually do. I experiment a lot. Some of it gets published, some of it doesn’t. A lot of it never gets off the ground. All of it is interesting. All of it challenges me.
In my world, productivity too, is an achievement. I started working with a business coach a few months ago and set myself a target to do 10 big things each month (writing the first draft of a nonfiction book was just ONE thing on my list the first month). When I first started doing this, getting even one of those things done in a month was a big accomplishment. Two months ago, I managed to do eight. I raise the bar constantly, challenging myself to a point where I don’t even think it’s possible. But then I do it and the bar is raised. I don’t need external validation because this provides me with exactly that.
This kind of challenge works for me. It may or may not work for you. But that’s not the point. The point is that if you’re a writer, you have to build in your own rewards and validation for the work you do because on a day-to-day basis, no one else is going to reward you for going out of your way to do something differently or for taking a risk that paid off.
Learning to enjoy writing as you’re doing it is a learned skill. It’s not something that comes naturally to most writers. I admit, I still hesitate before starting a new piece of work because it feels like once it’s on the page, it can’t be taken back. Even though logically I know that it can easily be deleted with one stroke. We all know the nonsensical things we tell ourselves that stand in our way so it’s not about logic. It’s about resistance and emotion. It’s about the fear of committing something to paper. And, as I lay out in FINISH THAT DAMN BOOK, it’s about practice and discipline. I show you how to beat the resistance so that when you come to the page, you can produce in spite of the fear. You become more willing to throw things away.
Let me be honest. I have spent six very long years of my life on this book and this last year in particular, it has come at the expense of a lot of things, including my freelance career. There is no guarantee. There is nothing to say that it will even sell. If I didn’t like the writing process, I would be extremely dependent on the “outcome” of this book and hesitant to talk about it here before it’s sold. But I’m not. I want it to sell, of course I do. I want it to sell for more than I can possibly even imagine. But you know, if it doesn’t? I’ll be okay. I’ll even come tell you about it. Because I had a good time writing it. I challenged myself repeatedly and achieved what I did not think myself capable of. I’m proud of the work and that’s what matters to me.
I love writing. I love the process. And I want you to as well.
This new course FINISH THAT DAMN BOOK isn’t about making six-figures or learning skills that will increase your income. If you want to make money quickly as a freelance writer, my other courses 30 DAYS, 30 QUERIES and CONTENT MARKETING FOR JOURNALISTS will help you.
FINISH THAT DAMN BOOK is about art. It’s about doing that one thing that you have wanted to do for your entire life and been struggling to either do or enjoy. It’s about finally committing to something that you’re afraid of and learning not to be afraid of it anymore.
Are you on your first book and struggling to get it written? Or on your third, the one you know you were meant to write but can’t find the courage to start because you fear where it might lead you? Either way, FINISH THAT DAMN BOOK will help you get over the obstacles and get it written.
Please, don’t let 2017 be yet another year when you say you’ll write the novel and don’t. Finish that damn book. Let’s finish our books together.
I’ve added a payment plan for those of you who want to spread the cost out a bit. Check it out here: http://writing-courses.teachable.com/p/damn-book/
I’ll see you in class.