A childhood friend of mine described his journalism cadetship at a major daily newspaper – he’d write and submit stories every day by the deadline. Every day they would get ‘spiked’. After several months without his stories being published, things changed. His stories got into the paper. One of the big advantages of working in journalism is learning when your story is finished: It’s when it makes it past your editor. In the modern world of self-publishing, it’s harder to know when to stop writing and rewriting. We are our own gatekeepers; writer, editor and publisher.
The amazing elastic book deadline
If you write a blog, you have the advantage of your schedule – weekly, fortnightly, monthly. Deadlines are one key way of deciding our work is done. It’s time to publish it. And you can always improve next week. It’s not so easy when it comes to writing a book. It’s such a big project that setting a deadline is not really sufficient to bring us to a conclusion.
For one thing, no-one is really expecting it to turn up by a deadline. And for another, there is so much writing to be done that setting a deadline can lack any real accountability. To say “I will get my book done in 90 days, or 120 days or even 600 days” is actually pretty meaningless. Tim Urban, the founder of the blog WaitButWhy, eloquently explains in his TED talk on procrastination. We opt for instant gratification – anything that is fun and easy. And writing a book might be fun, but it’s not easy.
Finishing line terrors
On short ‘deadlines’, finishing scares us into action. We get the job done.
On long ‘deadlines’, finishing can be so terrifying that when the end is in sight, we set off in the other direction. We sabotage our chances of finishing. There is a psychology to finishing stuff and it is really a difficult and, in many ways, risky choice. We want to stamp a disclaimer across our words – “not really finished, but …” We feel vulnerable. We measure our work against experienced writers and feel we come up short.
The art of finishing
Finishing is a choice. You must decide to finish.
When you commit to finishing, you realise that you need a process to finish your book. You cannot simply stop, and publish it. That is way too risky. You have to slowly, purposefully eliminate all the possible ways of not finishing to get you to the finish line.
Focus your ideas first. Add extra time at the start of your project to becoming clear about your topic and your audience. Clarity creates confidence. And you need the confidence to know when to stop. Then, structure all your chapters. You will know you have finished when you have written all the chapters and added an introduction and a conclusion.
Tell the world. Post on Facebook or LinkedIn: Author of [your book title], due out in [month of your choice]. Work with a writing partner. This could be a co-author, a trusted friend, or a coach or mentor. Make printers and designers your allies. If your book your proofreader, designer and printer ahead, you will give yourself some clear deadlines and stick to them.
Unfortunately, printers and designers are very familiar with procrastinators – they are forever receiving work later than promised and being asked to complete their work sooner than expected. Have a backup plan. Choose someone truly influential who you would like to provide a testimonial. It’s much harder to let down someone who is doing you a favour.
When you have written a chapter and reviewed it, ask a trusted friend or colleague to read some or all of it and provide feedback.
Ask for feedback the way you want it – written or verbal, gentle or direct. The most useful feedback is specific; judgements (good or bad) is backed up by examples.
Finishing is fun
I am a big fan of finishing. There’s nothing I hate more than missing deadlines, procrastinating, getting distracted and just losing that feeling of energy and excitement. Think of how wonderful you will feel holding your finished book in your hand, and how miserable you will be a year down the track if you have let yourself down.
Go on! Post your intention, pick your book buddy and get on with writing an awesome book.
PS: Thanks to Cheong, a participant at this morning’s How to Write an Awesome Book that Sells breakfast event, for the question that sparked this blog.