A few months ago, I accepted a challenge to finish my book by September 2. The challenge came with stakes. If I missed my deadline, I had to give $1,000 to the presidential candidate I despise the most.
You’re probably wondering, “Did you succeed? Or did you have to send that $1,000 check to that presidential candidate you hate most?”
By the way, you can read all the updates from my Book Deadline Challenge here.
So here’s the news…
I FINISHED MY BOOK!
The manuscript ended up becoming thirty-eight chapters and 79,183 words long, about eight chapters and 14,000 words more than I had planned. If you read my update from a few weeks ago about scope creep, yeah, it’s real.
In today’s post, I want to share what I learned in the last few weeks of finishing my book (you can also check out earlier book writing lessons and updates here):
1. Consequences Create Focus
One of the biggest things I’ve learned is the power of consequences. My friend Tim Grahl taught me that setting a consequence, like writing a $1,000 check for an organization you hate, is one of the best ways to destroy procrastination.
It worked. I was amazingly focused on my goal throughout the whole challenge. I wrote hard almost every day. And even more impressive, I was focused during a very busy season of life, because I had to write my book while going out of town three times (to Colorado, Portland, and Santa Barbara), attending two conferences, launching a new program here on The Write Practice, taking care of my three- and one-year-olds, and working my more than full-time job. The last few weeks were especially stressful as I raced to finish my deadline.
But it was all worth it when I finished that last chapter.
I’m now applying what I learned about consequences to help other writers in our 100 Day Book Challenge, the only writing program with built-in consequences, and people are already telling me how consequences are helping them stay focused.
2. Writing Shouldn’t Be Emotional
Writing is a soul-baring activity, and as such it can feel both amazing and terrifying. You’re sharing feelings, events, thoughts, stories you may not have shared with anyone before.
However, it can also feel completely normal, mundane even. Your writing is just you after all, and you’re pretty used to you.
This balance between vulnerability and the mundane can set you up for a trap, and I’ve found that writing gets much more difficult if one of two things happens:
- You over-romanticize the writing process and what you’re writing about. It’s easy to get caught up in what you’re doing. You’re sharing your soul! You’re living an artistic lifestyle! Everything is amazing! However, this sets you up for the following:
- You’re not content with yourself. It’s easy to doubt yourself, to feel like you need to create some kind of spectacle or make your writing more than you. Won’t people be bored with you? And besides, isn’t the writing process supposed to feel grand and artistic every day? Why does it so often feel so normal?
The key is to manage your emotions. Don’t let yourself get too high, too caught up in what you’re doing. At the same time, don’t let your self-doubt and insecurity make you question the writing process itself.
Instead, just write. Just do the work. Show up every day. It’s not glamorous. It doesn’t feel that creative or artistic. It’s also the only way to finish.
3. Find the Right Partner
I wrote my first book in 2010, finishing it about two months after I started dating Talia, who would later become my wife. I’m not sure I could have written that first book without her, but I know I couldn’t have written this book without her.
The right partner doesn’t have to be your spouse or significant other. It might be a writing mentor, your best friend, or your parents.
However, what I’ve found again and again is that the people you surround yourself with are essential to your success or failure. They propel you forward or hold you back.
Find someone who can help propel your writing forward (even if you have to hire them to be your coach).
4. Beware Writing Burnout
Four days after finishing my book, a wave of depression hit me.
I remember the exact moment it happened. I was walking with Talia and the boys by the beach in Santa Barbara. It was a cloudy, cool evening. All of a sudden, I felt lethargic, like I just wanted to lie in bed and do nothing, not watch TV, not read a book, just stare out the window.
I’ve been writing and working on creative projects for long enough to know exactly what was going on.
I had writing burnout.
Burnout, for me, feels a combination of exhaustion, boredom, and meaninglessness.
For months, I had been focused on finishing this project. It had given so much purpose and meaning to my life. And now that it was over, I was adrift in a sea of purposelessness.
Now what? I thought. But at the same time, I felt exhausted, unable to move on to another project. Stuck between exhaustion and purposelessness, depression followed.
In the past, I’ve made the mistake of dropping everything in the midst of burnout. I’ve even woken up from my depression months later, wondering why I’m so unhappy and so isolated.
This is the exact opposite of what you should do.
If you ever find yourself burnt out at the end of a big project, do this instead:
- Keep moving. Burnout is a reminder that you need more purpose in your life, but if you stop everything you’re doing, you’ll find it’s really hard to rediscover purpose. Keep pressing into your life, and you’ll find it so much faster.
- Reach out to others. In the stress of a big project, you probably had to say no to some of the people closest to you. Reconnect with your friends and family, and start to make new relationships that will help you in the next season.
- Grieve. The fastest way to get over something is to go through it. Allow yourself to feel your feelings. Did your book not turn out the way you wanted? Is your life pretty much the same after you wrote it as it was before? Consider journaling through your emotions. Then, remind yourself of all the ways you can make an impact in the future, and get started.
5. The Real Work is Just About to Begin
I’m not happy with my book. Of course I’m not. Good writing is rewriting.
But really, I’ll probably never be happy with it. What I have in my head will always be better than what I can put on the page.
My standards will always be higher than the skill I have to meet them. That’s okay, normal even. I’m content in the midst of the lack of contentment.
I’ve never had any of my books published. I’ve helped clients and friends get published, but I’ve never had my any of my own books published by a New York publisher.
For this book, I want to make it happen, and I would love to invite you to follow along the publishing process.
If you’ve ever wanted to see inside the publishing process from a writer’s perspective, I’d love to have you follow along as I try to get my book published.
I’ll be talking about self-publishing vs. traditional, how to write a book proposal, how to get the right agent, how to deal with publishing contracts, and more. You’ll also see all the mistakes I make along the way, so you can avoid them.
If you’re interested in following along as I work to get my book published, you can sign up for the series here. I won’t be publishing this on The Write Practice, so signing up will be the only place to get it. It would be fun to have you.
Have you ever finished writing a book? How did you feel about it afterward? Let me know in the comments!
Have you been struggling to finish a writing project? Today, spend some time working on either your work in progress or a writing piece you haven’t worked on in a while. Write for at least fifteen minutes.
When your time is up, share one paragraph of your practice in the comments section of this article. And if you share, please be sure to give feedback to at least three other writers.