“They pulled out their pocket computer, as was their habit first thing, dimly aware of the hope that always spurred them to do so–that there might be something good there, something exciting or nourishing, something that would replace the weariness.” ―Becky Chambers A Psalm for the Wild Built
I could tell she didn’t want to bring it up. The issue seemed so minor. It wasn’t exactly about writing. And she seemed to feel she should have a handle on it already.
But once she said it out loud, I saw everyone else’s eyes light up. Their heads were nodding. And the comments in the chat confirmed it: Emma kept getting derailed by her email. Along with you, me, and everybody else in the world.
“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.” ― Douglas Adams
Just last month we were at the Midsummer Stretch. And now? Unless you’re one of the lucky ones on the Quarter system, we’re in what one Composed alum calls “Preschool.” By which she means, classes haven’t started yet. But boy, are they looming.
“Now that I knew fear, I also knew it was not permanent. As powerful as it was, its grip on me would loosen. It would pass.” ― Louise Erdrich
I once gave a conference paper to a discussant just 45 minutes before the panel began. I was in grad school at the time, but didn’t yet realize that my co-panelists were colleagues I needed to court, not teachers I needed to please.
The discussant in question was Dr. Dianne Pinderhughes. For those of you who aren’t political scientists wincing in sympathetic horror right now, I’ll just say that she’s one of the biggest names in the discipline (and my subfield), a black woman who was toughing it out at the University of Chicago when I was just 7 years old.
“Whatever artistry may occur within the manuscript; the magic happens for me in the last draft. Whatever I have been resistant to say must finally be said. In the end, I see where my pencil has been leading me."
- Terry Tempest Williams
So, last month we talked about how to finish a writing project. As usual, I said very little about the writing itself. There were no hacks to help you find more time. No templates to help you sketch out your work schedule. Instead, it was all, “Feel this. Reflect on that. Come to understand the other.” If you’ve been getting InkWell’s loveletters for a while, you know there’s nothing surprising about that. It’s All Feelings, All The Time around here. What may have been surprising though, was:
“Step 3. Decide to really finish the book.”
No more detail than that. But what does that mean, exactly?
I got an email from my editor in mid January saying, “Do you think you could finish the book by the end of April? That would give us an optimal publication date in the early fall.” Once I started breathing again, I wondered, can I finish the book by then? Then remembered, of course I can. The real question is, can I finish the book by then without burning out?
After a good long think, I decided the answer to that last question is also YES. And I thought, instead of going through it alone, I'd share what I'm experiencing with all of you. So, if you're also trying to finish something without burning your life to the ground, here are a few ideas about how to go about it.
At first I thought it was a mistake.
Why was AARP sending me literature? Did they get me confused with my mom? We don’t have the same first name, but still—I couldn’t think of any other explanation. Weird, I thought, as I tossed it in the recycling bin. I’m not that old.
“To gain your own voice, you have to forget about having it heard.”
I got some great questions from you all after last month's Unstuck workshop. If you were there, you’ll remember I defined being stuck as continually engaging in activities that prevent us from moving the manuscript forward. The idea is that, even when we’re at the desk, mind at work and fingers flying, we can still be working in a way that, at the end of the hour, means we haven’t really done the work we needed to do.
It’s not just that starting back up is hard. It’s that everything in my body is screaming at me not to do it.
If I’ve been away from running for more than a week, my hands and arms will itch when I start back up. I feel nauseous. I get a little indigestion. I even have the feeling that I’ve got the runs—but it’s always a false alarm.
After a couple weeks of consistently showing up, the itching goes away. But for those 14 days? It sucks.
I don’t understand a thing about poetry except that some of it snags the fabric of my life. Like this one, published in the New Yorker* a couple weeks ago:
I was just beginning
to wonder about my own life
and now I have to return to it
regardless of the weather
or how close I am to love.
Doesn’t it bother you sometimes
what living is, what the day has turned into?
So many screens and meetings
and things to be late for.
Everyone truly deserves
a flute of champagne
for having made it this far!
Though it’s such a disaster
to drink on a Monday.
Photo by Elohee (InkWell Retreat 2017)
Because it’s still a pandemic.
And there’s nowhere to go.
So we hardly ever drive the car.
Which is 17 years old and not worth spending money on.
That’s why we haven’t bothered to fix that thing that happens when we drive at high speeds. An alarming smell wafts about, suggesting something’s about to catch fire. We’d have to ask friends to recommend a mechanic, then Uber back and forth to the shop. It all feels like too much effort for too little return.