“It’s very well typed”
It took me seven years to finish my first book. (I wrote about this in The War of Art.) I couldn’t sell it. Couldn’t find a buyer. In fact it would be twenty-one more years before a novel of mine actually saw the light of publication.
But finishing that first manuscript meant everything. Was it any good? I was renting a little cottage in Northern California then and my landords, a couple, had watched me slave and agonize through two years to finish the book. They were curious. They asked to read it. When they returned the manuscript a week later, their comment was, “It’s very well typed,”
I didn’t care. My demons were about finishing. Until then, I had gotten to the 99-yard line on every project and compulsively blown them all up. I couldn’t get to THE END. I couldn’t ship, to use Seth Godin’s perfect term.
How do you get through a barrier like that? It’s Resistance, yes. You can tell yourself that. You can identify the monster. But how do you slay it? How can you finish, when every cell in your body is screaming, QUIT QUIT QUIT?
The only answer I’ve found is sheer will. There’s a legend about Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park, The Andromeda Strain, many more) that as he got close to the end on a novel he was writing, he would start getting up earlier and earlier in the morning to work on it. First it was six o’clock, then five, then four. Finally he’d have to move out of the house, check into a hotel, just to keep from driving his wife crazy.
Michael Crichton was smart. He knew that as he approached the moment of truth, of shipping, of exposing his creation to the world, his inner Resistance would ramp up its intensity, trying to sabotage him, to keep him from reaching THE END.
So he upped his own intensity. I didn’t know Michael Crichton, but I can imagine his self-talk during those final do-or-die weeks. No doubt he lashed himself like a Marine drill instructor. He encouraged himself like a highly-paid coach.
Finish it. Don’t chicken out! FINISH THE DAMN THING!
In other words, will. Pure, no-nonsense will.
For me, the agony of not finishing something … the shame, the self-loathing, the disgrace in my own eyes and the eyes of everyone who knew me … was like a fiery goad that seared my flesh every morning.
“It’s very well typed.”
I don’t care! The thing is done! It’s a wrap! I did it. Nothing anyone can say or think, even if they’re 1000% right, can take that away from me.
And here’s the even better news (which proved true for me and which I pass on to all of us struggling to get a make-or-break project across the finish line):
Once you finish, even one time, you will never have trouble finishing again.
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Thank you so much dear Steve, and thank you also for that interesting idea, that mr. Crichton would wake up earlier every day when he was near the finish line.
You already know that I’m now on the 4th year of writing that book. “Hell” is loose all around me. My concentration is like a boat in a storm, there are a million distractions and a million more that try to enter, and the fear of the threat of the things that may -and will- happen and will inevitably take me from the only sacred place I have, which is still long hours in the day to sit down and try to work without extreme fatigue, is like a ghost that haunts me.
I am preparing mentally for the worst scenarios. My “win” is that I have resolved to finish the book even if everything goes “hell”, even if I’ll lose the most valuable asset, which is time for me, now. But how can someone be sure for his future will, that he will make it to the end, before that happens? He/she can’t. Stubborn is the word, not self confident. It’s like a last stand. And when you prepare yourself a bit about the worst scenarios, prepare for the possibility that nothing will go as you wished, and dissolve that you will never give up although you will have to accept that you will be far more slow and distracted, maybe it’s a good mental preparation for the storms to come.
“I did it. Nothing anyone can say or think, even if they’re 1000% right, can take that away from me.” That is so true. I *really* needed to hear this today as I’m sitting on a project so close to the finish line, too afraid to just do it, and nobody I’ve spoken to outside of writing understands this. Equally important for me to read today: “Once you finish, even one time, you will never have trouble finishing again.” I’m looking forward to the fruit of that promise. Thank you Steve, for always knowing exactly what I need to hear, always encouraging me one more step closer to where I need to be. I’m going to finish this project, and this post will have made my whole year.
Sending encouragement, Yvonne.
There’s a good documentary on Netflix right now: “Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold” (https://youtu.be/99NaRJQzXiM).
She talks about her book “Blue Nights,” a memoir she wrote after the death of her daughter Quintana in 2005. It’s seen as something of a companion book to “The Year of Magical Thinking,” a book about her grief following the death of her husband, writer John Gregory Dunne, in 2003.
On our topic today of “not quitting” and “finishing the damn thing,” I’ll pull in her words from that film:
“This book is called ‘Blue Nights.’ At the time I began it, I found my mind turning increasingly to illness. To the end of promise, the dwindling of the days, the inevitability of the fading, the dying of the brightness. Blue Nights are the opposite of the dying of the brightness, but they are also its warning.
“Writing Blue Nights was hard, actually. In the middle of it I thought, ‘I don’t have to finish this,’ and I almost abandoned it then. But I went on.”
Thanks, Joe! Just added the Netflix documentary to my watchlist. I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on the Van Gogh experience. We went a few months ago. I enjoyed the immersive environment and got lots of neat footage I hope to use for a music video! Have you seen ‘At Eternity’s Gate’ with Willem Dafoe playing Vincent? I highly recommend this portrayal because it has more depth on both Gauguin and Theo’s influence in his artwork.
Thanks for the recommendation, Kate. I remember seeing the trailers when it first came out, but lost track of it after that. Just put it on my watchlist. I’d like to know more about Theo… to have a brother like that.
Many many years ago, I went to this museum in Amsterdam: https://www.vangoghmuseum.nl/en/stories/brotherly-love#10
You are so right. To have a brother or true blue friend like Theo. Vincent struck me as such a lonely soul. I think he only felt like Theo understood him. I wonder if that’s why we are still moved by his artwork hundreds of years later? He poured his entire self into it to be understood and leave his mark. https://open.spotify.com/playlist/70NmdlovVHj8GE74XFdZbM Enjoy this playlist!
Thanks for the playlist link! I’ve read that there are four or five different production companies producing their own versions of this immersive experience. That playlist goes with a version produced by Lighthouse Immersive Arts. The production here was put together by Australian-based Grande Experiences, with a different soundtrack. I’m enjoying listening to the one you sent, regardless!
Something else I was saving to share today: from an interview in Distinctly Montana magazine with novelist James Lee Burke (https://www.distinctlymontana.com/our-interview-author-james-lee-burke). This goes along with other themes we hit in Writing Wednesdays.
“Dave Robicheaux [detective and protagonist in one of Burke’s series] is the Everyman of the medieval morality plays. And all the stories are actually from the Bible and Greek mythology. The advantage of having a classical education is [being able to] recognize that the author has stolen all of this material from the Elizabethan theater. Carl Jung said there is a well that we experience that we inherit in the unconscious. I’m kidding about stealing plots, but the same stories appear again and again, because the stories are indelibly printed in the unconscious of the human mind. A fellow sitting in — golly, I don’t know — Hong Kong. He’s reading Macbeth and thinking, ‘That’s my mother-in-law!’”
On “where the stories are”:
“But the stories again, I believe that in every artist they’re in the unconscious. But in teaching creative writing, I used to tell students the big story is right out there, right at the other end of your fingertips. The issue is observation. You’ve got to listen. You’ve got to look and see. It’s right around you. It always is. Great stories are two feet away.”
What a beautiful phrase, Steve. This post will stick with me for a while.
And of course, the magic is that it doesn’t even matter if it’s well typed.
Steve’s Writing Wednesdays and Seth’s Blog help me with Resistance! Thank you both for sharing your wisdom with fellow creators! I have so much respect for people who, as Goethe wrote, “treat people as if they were what they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.” A heartfelt thank you!!
Brilliant and so on point for me today. Thank you, sir!
Just what I needed to read today from this lovely community. There have been many challenges in the last several weeks that kept me from making music. It helps to know that I have crossed the finish line before and I will cross it again. Right now though, I must regroup. I must get my groove back. Thank you Steve!!
Good Will (instead og Good Luck) Kate! Make your dream, your creation, an obsession. An obsession that is like love, like alcohol, like smoke in intensity.
Thank you, Tolis! Right back at you. Sometimes when I go through dry spells due to life or other responsibilities, I tend to get melodramatic and think I will NEVER create again. Did the little fairy muses sprinkling pixie dust over my piano disappear? Just kidding 🙂 I’m in that part of the Hero’s Journey ready to be reborn!
Thank you. Perfect timing.
This is the stuff so many of us need to hear. Thanks for sharing that story, I was actually just listening to it in your audiobook of Turning Pro. Can hear your epic orator voice as I read. Keep up the tremendous work so some of us can breakthrough in our daily creative battles.
Yes, thank you. Perfect and encouraging.
“Geniuses finish things” and “No one can argue with a finished (movie, book, etc.)” are two bits of wisdom I’ve kept close (I forget who said them.) You can feel the Universe shift when you have a completed product in your hands. It’s no longer theoretical, no longer “I am going to write such and such, or do such and such.” You instead say “I did it, here it is.” I think maybe that’s what you mean when you say you’ll never have trouble finishing again. It’s as if it’s just not an option anymore.
Well said Sam.
Thank you Steve, this is priceless. The self respect and sheer joy of completion, even imperfect completion, always ignites and builds momentum for my next offering. The pain of incompletion is unbearable. I use your works on resistance to help me in those moments that threaten to stall or stop me. I am grateful.
I try to think about it like this: It’s not good or bad yet. It is incomplete.
We MUST complete the entire cycle of Novel Writing / Painting / whatever, in order to know what our are actually is and what it’s potential actually is.
If we don’t complete it, the art isn’t what it could be, and we get a false view of whether it is good or bad.
Remember: It’s not good or bad yet. It is incomplete.
That’s why we don’t finish, to prevent the final judgement!
I love it – “it’s well-typed.” So funny and honest. In my debut novel (finished) I kept thinking why waste my time on this but would go on and then stopped for several months, then was drawn back like an addict, then got to 50% done and said to myself I couldn’t quit – it would be too embarrassing to admit I stopped. I kept saying, “This is good, don’t stop, this is good.” Deceiving myself any way I could until I got it done. And turned out, it wasn’t bad. And the feeling of finishing is POWERFUL.
This reminds me of the first time someone critiqued my work. It was in a freelance writing class, and I’d written an article about telemarketing. ”The lead is, I’m sure, appropriate for the audience,” the professor wrote in part, “but it still is kind of dull.”
I FINALLY published my book-it’s actually a simple journal that I have wanted to create since speaking at Tedx Camarillo back in 2017 about the power of handwritten letters. I have been encouraged by all of you here. I never commented because I was a Biology major, never thought if myself as a “writer”, and God knows my grammar/sentence structure has always needed improvement.
I teared up reading what has already been mentioned, “The thing is done! It’s a wrap! I did it. Nothing anyone can say or think, even if they’re 1000% right, can take that away from me.“
All of you who write novels, I bow to you! My simple journal maybe has 6,000 words to it. I can’t fathom 180,000 words or whatever the average length for a novel is.
Thank you, Steve, and all of you who have been an inspiration for me!
I agree with Tom above, I laughed out loud with ‘it’s well typed’. Too funny! I can picture an older couple, witnessing the effort Steve was doing for 2 years–wanting to be encouraging–and saying the nicest thing they could think of!
What do you think of my outfit? ‘Well pressed…’
What do you think of my photograph? ‘Good lighting…’
I had my own finish or die moment 12 years ago with a race. The idea struck me late in Spring, and in Washington there are only about 13 weekends in which outdoor events are feasible. I left myself 11 weeks to plan, promote, and execute…I DO NOT encourage this–but we did complete it. I had NO IDEA how. Had never created any event in my life.
When discussing this hair-brained idea with my wife, she asked (in her grounded, sensible way), “Why not wait until next year when we can really do this well?”
“Kelly, I’ve been a great starter my entire life, but a horrible finisher. I must finish this. I have to do it now. I cannot wait.”
I think Kelly knew there was something even deeper going on that I did not say out loud. “If I don’t do this, I might wither and die.”
That is how I felt. Truth is that it almost killed me to finish, and now 12 years later–it is still VERY HARD–but doable. It is the hard that we love. Kinda like the feeling of being sore after the gym. It hurts–but in a way that is empowering. I love the feeling of tight, sore muscles. I feel alive. I know I’ve done something positive.
Very different kind of pain compared to a hangover…which is the pain I get from avoiding and not finishing. (Metaphorically now, but at one point I did drown my shame with drink…but the hangover remains. The hangover of lost opportunities, quitting on oneself, rationalizing the easier path, sneaking a snack late at night when I know better…)
Great post Brian, thank you.
“Well, it’s kind of depressing,” was the comment on my first finished book.
I was doing a little house cleaning and packed up two other unsold novels and filled three times as many boxes with rejection slips from those novels and all manner of stories etc. It was kind of depressing. Oh, well on to the next book. I’m only four chapters in. I’ve only been writing for sixteen years. Maybe five more years to go? Didn’t Frank McCourt publish his first book at age sixty-six? I won’t be quite that old, but who knows maybe the book after the one under my pen? I may be an idiot, but I’m a happy idiot.
Another clip, on the subject of the fear that makes us torpedo our efforts at the last moment, quit halfway through, or maybe never get off the dime to even start. Harry, dying on a cot under a mimosa tree, thinking of all the stories he never put to paper. From Hemingway’s “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”:
Now he would never write the things that he had saved to write until he knew enough to write them well. Well, he would not have to fail at trying to write them either. Maybe you could never write them, did that was why you put them off and delayed the starting. Well he would never know, now.
Yeah, oof is right. And also moving to know that even Hemingway was familiar with this feeling. Reassuring to know that “we’re not the only ones,” knowing that writers we respect (like Steve and like Ernie) are familiar with these challenges.
That’s a great story!
Those who don’t write don’t understand what it’s all about (the discipline, the energy required, the fear…).
I remember pitching my first novel many years ago (still not published) to an agent. I told him about the drama, the exotic locale, the characters, the message, the moral.
His only question?
“How long is it?”
I was stunned. The number of pages had far more importance to him than the content!
Such is the world we live in!
Thanks again for your story. “It’s very well typed.” That’s a classic!
I love that.
Thanks for sharing it. You’re always on the mark
I’ve been trying to complete a novel ( several ) close to my heart for 20 years but I am PETRIFIED others will say
“Well, that stuff is total crap”
. .. perhaps I should just let ‘er rip, crap or not ( it will be crap )
Thank you Steven and everyone else here for giving me hope.
I will stay focused on the blessed image of finishing.
Guess I felt the need to say that. Hope this comment doesn’t waste anyone’s time.
What if they say it’s good? Why do you care what others say? My first novel was crap, but I wrote it anyway. The second was too, but wrote it anyway. GO FOR IT!
Oops, sorry left my name out on the above comment. And my third is probably crap too, though I’ve not quite given up on it.
You crossed the finish line!! I second your sentiment, Jackie. JUST DO IT, Shep!
I had the great opportunity to speak at at TEDx back in 2012. It was the inaugural TEDx Tacoma with 24 speakers.
1. I felt totally outside my league. TOTALLY!
2. No notes…it is a talk. So I brought a few 3×5 cards with me into the Green Room prior to the talk . (Maybe TMI, but funny I think, I was so nervous that I went to the bathroom 3 times in the 45 min prior to my time!) We had makeup artists work us over (drove me crazy, couldn’t stop touching my face!)
3. The videos were posted to YouTube about 3 weeks later…when it finally dropped, I nearly shat my pants. I was panting – seriously- for about 4 hours. So worried about what others would say.
4. I finally had a healthy thought about 5 hours later, “I stand by it. I meant what I said. If they don’t like it, to hell with them. They can give their own TEDx talk!l
To hell with them. They can write their own book. Give ‘em hell.
I bought The War of Art at a writer’s conference. Now it sits close at hand at all times. Thanks for finishing it.
I’m not sure on the last comment. Many years ago, I finished a screenplay. Someone else typed the final draft as I sat beside them. I got the thing out and it was well received. Met with Jon Voight, Richard Donner and a major producer wanted to do it and Simon and Schuster wanted me to write a novel based on the screenplay. (I turned them down.) Anyway,it never got made but I did finish. Today, I am on the second draft of my first novel and I’;; be damned; the Wall is up again. I guess I know too much or too little at this point. WILL is the only thing left.
That was an inspiring read. Maybe it is just what I needed to hear today. I do not write much but I do have an unfinished project that would give me a great feel if I completed it. My motto will be one that Nike made famous: “Just Do It”.
Very encouraging, as always, thank you.
I recently finished my first ever manuscript – then presented it to someone who happens to work as an agent & editor (I don’t have either). She told me to write a different book. After over two years of hard work, sweat, blood and tears, that was a huge blow, of course. But she was right, and so I started writing that other book, safe in the knowledge – not least thanks to Steve’s post and you guys – I’ll be able to finish it.
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