Title: Finishing School- The Happy Ending to That Writing Project You Can’t Seem to Get Done
Pub. Date: 10 January 2017
Genre: How-To, Writing Books, Philosophy, Self-Help
This might be just another of the thousands of books that try to help authors finish their manuscripts, but maybe it is a book that can do what it promises. I think I will test it!
In that spirit, I pulled out a lingering half-formed novel idea I can’t forget about and put Finishing School to work. Over the past two years I have gone so far as scribbling a rough outline and summary draft of first five chapters before I put it away because I was drawing a blank every time I opened the document. I know what I want, but the execution just isn’t happening! This should be a perfect test subject for Finishing School. No pressure Tennis and Morton, none at all.
It is a good sign that on the first page of the Introduction they write:
“You may unconsciously expect that by ignoring your project you can make it disappear, and that the obligation to complete it will fade. That is not the case. Partially completed novels, short stories, and personal essays seem to become proof of your personal limitations. You did not keep your promise to your story.
As you gradually abandon the effort, as the weeks, months, or years pile up, the project becomes your adversary. When you think of it, you cringe. You start to wonder why you began it in the first place, yet, you cannot let it go.”
Ouch, truth! It is embarrassing how true this is. The answer to this problem is a promise to restore order and progress to your project. The Finishing School method is not interested in judging the worth of the work, just in getting away from the emotional aspects (in part 1 they detail six emotional pitfalls-doubt, shame, yearning, fear, judgment, arrogance) of writing in order to get the writing done. Best of all, they write:
“The Finishing School method does not require you to change, to become a better person who is more organized, more disciplined, and has life under control. It asks only that you take a few simple steps.”
Oh, thank goodness!
Parts 2 and 3 get into the meat of the program and how it is supposed to work. I found that these people share many of my own beliefs regarding how best to support and be supported both as a writer and a teacher of creative writing. Some of the advice is expected, such as commit to realistically scheduled sessions of writing, break projects into manageable pieces, and learn about time management.
“Just remember, five minutes of doing is better than thirty minutes of ‘meant to do.’”
Some ideas reshape how we look at the process. For example, it is easier to meet your goal if you have someone holding you accountable. They are not talking about traditional writer’s group shark tanks, but a buddy that is not interested in competition or judging you, (in fact, you don’t share your actual writing with anyone) who sees you as a fellow writer, someone who is doing the same thing they are, fighting the same fights, reaching for the same kind of victories in an environment where both of you can focus on getting things done.
Unfortunately, there was a moment in this book that I had to put it down. In her chapter on How to Create Your Own Finishing School, Danelle Morton declares:
“In my three months teaching Finishing School, I’ve come to see that it is not a class for everyone who wants to write, only those who are serious about their work and willing to face what they learn about themselves in the process of completing it. This turns out to be a small but dedicated number of people.”
She goes on to classify the students who have fallen out of her class and the cherished few who have not:
“The students who remain in class are dedicated to their craft and to the goal of writing every week. In mood, spirit, and word count they are making strong and steady progress. The class has given them a place where people take their dream seriously and never question how they are going to accomplish it. Not everyone is ready for that. Not everyone truly wants to finish.”
Yuck. This smacks of the same kind of smugness that drives writers away from writing groups that contain ‘real writers’ who have an opinion about other writers dedication or talent. It seems to be actually paradoxical to the rest of the Finishing School philosophy. Of course every writer, professional or amateur, who starts something wants to finish it. While I get that a writer who does not finish is never going to get the work out there, I do not believe that every writer who can finish is the epitome of authentic writerliness.
I personally know many talented and skilled writers who just have not and may not ever finish a particular piece of work (for many of the reasons outlined in this book) even if they really want to and are recognized for their talent or skill. I also have read many a ‘finished’ piece of garbage. Not finishing one piece does not mean you are not talented or dedicated to writing, it means you have not finished the piece—which is something the Finishing School method can help with. Let’s keep it real. Finishing only grants a writer the opportunity to sell, it does not mean you are more of a writer than those ‘less dedicated’ unfinishers.
I refuse to let this moment smudge my overall view of this book, which is positive. I disregarded the garbage about the above example and the part about it being okay to quit on a dream– since no one needs permission to do that, and the admirably efficient and aesthetically pleasing, though unrealistic time management example given by Danelle. Then, I ferreted out the sweet path to finishing as Cary describes it in the most practical chapter Finishing School for Two and went to work on my novel again with renewed interest.
Since I did not have a buddy for the first month, but I did not want to wait until I found one, I let my journal be the buddy. I kept appointments with it as I would a real person. I asked and answered the questions a buddy would. I was accountable. Now I have been going on for long enough to say that for such a simple method, the result of embracing the Finishing School philosophy is that I am looking at my project with different eyes and producing again. On my way to, and a heck of a lot closer to… finishing.
As far as Finishing School, the book goes, it starts strong with a few chapters that are worth the whole, collapses into a little bit of meandering just short of unnecessary cuckoo chaos about classes that don’t really add to the experience, then finishes with feel-good. If you are a writer, you may identify more with Danelle’s personality or with Cary’s, but both have a lot to offer. I hope every writer stuck in a project reads this book. It fulfills it’s promise. Just reading it may be enough to identify why you are stuck and conquer it, but you might try out the method too, just in case it works for you.
A copy was received by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.