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.
Step 1. Feel all the feels. Once the idea of finishing comes up, it helps to deliberately set aside time to let out all your feelings about it. An incomplete list of mine included:
It helps, at some point in this deluge of feelings, to share your hysteria with your girlfriends via text, so that they can send you back perfectly pitched refusals of your self doubt (see photo above).
Step 2. Admit you’d been shitting yourself. If, for example, you’ve just had a meeting with your co-author/RA/project manager/InkWell’s Director of Operations in which you asserted, “My priority for the next three months is finishing the book,” take a moment to acknowledge that, until you read your editor’s words, you’d really been treating it like a faint hope. Maybe you hadn’t realized it until then, as you’d actually been showing up for the book pretty religiously for a good long while. But now’s a good time to remember that finishing and maintaining your writing practice are not the same thing. Finishing is its own beast, and it takes a keen devotion that’s so intense it almost makes its own sound, like a high-pitched whistle that’s beyond the range of human hearing. And now that you’ve remembered that…
Step 3. Decide to really finish the book. Yep. This needs to be a concrete decision. I'll have more to say about that next month.
Step 4. Ask for grace. What I mean here is, think through all the folks in your life who are about to be affected by the fact that you’re finishing the book. Because when you finish a book, your people finish it alongside you. And it helps if you let them know that something’s about to affect your ability to be there for them in the ways you normally would. You don’t even have to be specific at this point. You just need them to know you’re gonna need some grace.
By grace I mean undeserved, already-granted forgiveness. I mean, you’re going to say yes, you can do such and such. Then you’ll forget. Or be too pooped to do it and have to back out. The draft docs you’re co-writing with them (not the thing you’re finishing) will actually be unconnected strings of thought, not the tightly organized outlines you’re used to sharing. You might prep class for hours, then show up without your notes (even if you’re on Zoom). In other words, we're going to screw up. Better to beg their pardon before it happens.
We ask for grace, not just because we need the space to write. We ask for grace because it’s a humbling reminder of how much people are on your side. You’re gonna find out that these folks got nothin' but love for you. Cause telling your squad that you’re about to finish your book is sorta like telling your family that your water just broke. They know what a shitshow you’re about to endure, and how scared you are of what’s coming. But they can’t really get with that. All they see is that creature you’re about to bring into the world. What a joy it will be when it’s here. And how ready you are for everything that’s coming your way.
If we want to finish a manuscript, these are all steps we need to go through before we even think about the actual content. That’s because finishing is as emotional as it is intellectual. Not acknowledging this is one of the things that trips us up.
There are lots more steps in this process (especially the mysterious #s 4 and 5 above). I’ll be talking with you about them as I go through them myself. But for now, I gotta go. My manuscript About-to-Be-a-Book is calling.
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