I open my laptop and turn it on. Little blue icons begin to appear down the right side of the screen. Those seven little blue boxes poke my day with an acute sense of guilt because each one represents a book in progress.
Within each of those folders are one, two, three, sometimes four drafts of the same story, as well as character sketches, research notes, and the beginning of a synopsis. If I had real folders in a real filing cabinet, most would be bulging out of their allotted space. The one item missing in each? A finished manuscript.
Some of those files haven’t been touched in years. Maybe you know this scenario too. I finish another draft, rejoice at the sense of accomplishment, give it time to brew, then—
Self-doubt jumps up with a megaphone!
It’s not perfect. I’m not a real writer. My family and friends will be disappointed. They’ll know I’m a fake.
I snap my laptop shut to silence the voices. But they follow me around as I chase after any project other than writing.
In truth, I’m desperate to finish one. Just one story out of the seven would be enough motivation to spur me on to write more. Because I love to write. So how do I get past my road blocks?
In Cary Tennis and Danelle Morton’s book, Finishing School, they describe the six emotional pitfalls that keep writers from finishing a project. I relate to quite a few of them. I wonder if you recognize some of these voices too.
1. Doubt. That cynical, pessimistic, self-loathing creature that hangs around, especially when I’m reading a really good book. I close it and moan, I’ll never write like that. And even if I finish a project and spend all that time and angst, it will never be perfect. So why try? Because God called me to write.
2. How about the voice of Shame? I’m letting everyone down by not being that genius I’m reading before going to sleep, (even if I dream that I’m accepting the Pulitzer). Everyone else already knows I’m a failure. I’m the last to figure it out. Should I continue? Yes! God called fishermen and tax collectors to spread the Gospel.
3. Yearning for accolades. That sly, cunning, never satisfied voice of perfection slithers into my writing chair. My laptop screen saver changes from a peaceful setting to a montage of smiling faces and clapping hands amidst a rainfall of confetti. But how long does glory last? The drive for perfection means only one thing—I will never finish. Only God is perfect, and thankfully He chooses to use the imperfect.
4. Here’s another one. Fear. What am I actually afraid of? When I write down my fears and imagine how each would look if they came about, I realize where my weaknesses are and start looking for ways to improve them. Often my fears are grounded in reality, as in what if I spend the remainder of my life writing and never get published? What does God have to say about fear? “Fear not, for I am with you always.” I could add, even unto the end of an unpublished life!
5. Here’s a tough one. Judgment. Cliché! the world shouts. It’s all been said before. You’ve nothing original to offer. Or the voice that whispers, if I never finish, I will never be judged. It then shouts that had I not opened my mouth at that last dinner gathering, no one would ever know I even tried. Here’s the truth I hang on my bulletin board in front of my computer. Who’s on the throne? Shouldn’t it be God?
6. The last pitfall, Arrogance, seems to hang on the heels of judgment. No one knows the genius within me. I’ll show them. I’ll be perfect someday. I’ll prove I’m worthy to be called a writer. Isn’t it a bit narrow-minded of me to think that perfection is the only state to exist in? It may be a worthy goal, but it is an impossible goal for an imperfect, finite, piece of God’s creation. Humility is a much better state, accepting that I am imperfect but that I will do the best I can. If this is God’s calling, then it is His work and purpose and responsibility to fulfill that purpose.
Hand in hand with God, it becomes a journey of opening one little blue folder at a time. It’s an uphill journey of sweating and stumbling. For that which is hardest won is best treasured, so I’ve heard. Would we want it any other way?
Well … yes.
Though I like the hand-in-hand with God part, I don’t look forward to the sweating and stumbling. I’d rather snap my fingers and look back at a pile of published books. But let’s be realistic, it won’t happen if I continue to listen to those doubting voices. I read once that it takes a community to make a writer. We are not creatures that can grow in the company of just our laptops and doubting voices. It also takes planning and setting goals and being accountable to another.
I open my laptop and hover the cursor over those seven blue folders. Which one to open first?
Note: Each of these pitfalls and their remedies are dealt with in Finishing School. And during the month of March Karen will lead a four-week class that meets once a week for two hours based on some of the principles in this book. Click here for full details and to register.