Here’s How To Finish That Fucking Book, You Monster

That book you’re writing is mewling again in the dark. It’s a half-formed thing — all unspooled sinew and vein, its mushy head rising up out of the mess of its incomplete body, groaning and gabbling about this life of misery it leads. Its life is shit because you haven’t finished it. It’s flumping along on stump legs, pawing its way through your hard drive, bleating for attention. It needs words. It needs plots. It needs resolution.

YOU MONSTER.

WHAT HAVE YOU DONE.

It’s okay. I’m here. I can help you.

CLICK THIS BUTTON TO GIVE ME $199.99 IN 78 EASY HOURLY INSTALLMENTS AND I WILL SHOW YOU HOW bleah okay fine I won’t charge you any money. I’ll do this for free. Because I like you. And because I feel bad for the ill-formed thing you call a ‘novel.’ And because I hope secretly you will respect my advice enough to one day form a cult of personality around me.

You wanna finish that book?

Here’s how you finish that book.

1. Stop complaining about it. I know, it’s hard. It’s easier to talk about writing than it is to actually write, isn’t it? And it’s extra-special-super-saucy-easy to get online and join with others who have joined the Aren’t Finishing Shit club, and it feels somehow productive to talk about not being productive. Trust me, I know. I’ve been there. I’ve done it. I’ve flopped about publicly and engaged in the illusion of productivity. But you gotta stop. I’m not saying you can’t vent about it — just vent after you’ve BARFED WORDS UP ONTO A PAGE.

2. Accept your limitations. You are not a perfect person. You are given over to frailties and foibles. Others have different frailties and foibles. Yours are yours, and others may possess privilege that you do not. (Also true: you may possess privilege that others do not.) That changes no part of the reality of how this happens: writing requires writing. It demands work. A little here, a lot there, whatever you can accomplish within your given time and considering your limitations. You can do it. Gotcher hands chopped off? Type with your nose.

3. Set your time, and defend it. You know your schedule. You know your life. Up at 6AM, work at 8AM, naked racquetball with Dave and Mary at noon, cocaine and Muay Thai kickboxing after work with Pedro and your pet kangaroo, Mister Knickers, whatever. You know your deal. It shakes out roughly the same way every day. Look at this schedule, find the gap, and FILL IT WITH WORDS. Maybe it’s every day for 45 minutes. Maybe it’s every Saturday for eight hours straight. Find the time. Then defend it. Defend it from everything. Anything that wants to sap your time and steal your opportunity to smash words into the chrono-fissure, you scream at it, LEAVE ME ALONE, TIME THIEF. Flail! Writhe! Take the time and own it.

4. Find your space, and defend it. Maybe you have an office. Maybe you gotta take up a corner of the dining room table. Or a table at the coffee shop. OR A LICHEN-ENCRUSTED ROCK IN THE DEEPEST TUNDRA. Doesn’t matter, as long as you can claim it and count on it for your writing endeavor. Go there. Write there. Anybody who wants to take your space, you wave a knife at them. You shake a jar of bees at them. Rub blood and bones in your hair and hiss at any who would dare to violate your WORD DISGORGEMENT BUBBLE.

5. Repeat after me: this is important. It’s important to you. It may one day be important to readers. Stories matter. Stories shape the world, and they do this one person at a time, from writer to reader. Don’t act like this doesn’t matter. This is something you want to do, so assert the thought your mind — and to any who dare challenge the notion! — that damn right, this is important. Give it priority. Lend it the weight of value. Emotional value. Intellectual value. Fuck You, Don’t Judge Me value.

6. Set a reasonable daily goal. Me, I write 2000 words daily, but I do this full-time. You, maybe you can write 350 words a day. Guess what? It still works. It’s still writing. It still counts. Nobody’s over your shoulder judging you about it, and if they’re judging you for not writing what they write, punch them in the ear and vomit hot lava on their supine form. Maybe it’s not about word count at all, but a chapter a day. Or one a week. Or one plot point to the next. I don’t care. Nobody should care. The only thing that matters is FORWARD MOTHERFUCKING MOMENTUM. One step at a time. One leap. One sprint. Find a reasonable goal and hit it regularly. And when you don’t hit that goal —

7. Don’t beat yourself up. You know what good that does? ZIPPITY SHIT NADA BUPKISS POOP NOISE NOTHIN. Shame and guilt and haranguing yourself are worthless. Shame is yet another way to feel productive, like, ah, yes, I’ve sufficiently punished myself, now with my inner thighs properly whipped bloody by this hickory switch, I may once more feel good about writing. Except it doesn’t make you feel good about writing, it just makes you feel bad about not writing. And feeling bad is dumb. You should feel bad about feeling bad. (Wait, that seems like a paradox? Whatever.) Momentum is not gained by hobbling yourself with guilt. Momentum is gained by recognizing the failure and then using it as a trampoline to jump way the fuck over it. “That thing I didn’t do?” you say to yourself, “Ha ha, tomorrow is now today and I will finish what I started,” and then you cartwheel over it with two machine guns and a sassy, sexy glint in your sassy, sexy eyes. Failure in this way is a thing to overcome — a hole to step over, not a hole to step into to fulfill some twisted sense of resentment and discipline.

8. Kill your fear of failure. Failure is amazing because failure is learning. This book may fail. It may never get published. It may get finished and suck moist, open sphincter. That’s okay. Even since getting published I’ve written three novels the world will likely never see because they failed. And I like that they failed because I use their crumpled bodies as a hill to get me higher next time, and each increase in elevation grants me a clearer view of what comes next. (Please read: Delilah S. Dawson on WHEN YOUR BOOK IS FATALLY FLAWED.)

9. Kill your fear of success. This is also a thing. I don’t know where it comes from or why it happens. Maybe it’s that you fear you don’t deserve it. Maybe it’s that you are afraid of what happens once it leaves your hand and goes to an agent or an editor. Success means being judged — by the industry, by readers, by reviewers. Poop on all of that. Do not entangle your current work in worries over success or failure. Do not ascribe it so lofty a judgment. Lean into the purity of the thing — the purity of doing, the purity of moving forward. Do not worry what is at the end of the road. Just walk the damn road and enjoy what you see along the way.

10. Divest yourself of ideas of quality. Quality matters in the end. Quantity matters in the beginning. Produce. Create. Write. Iterate. As I am fond of saying, that first draft isn’t just a zero draft, it isn’t just a vomit draft — it’s the beachstorming draft. It’s just you trying to land enough boats and enough soldiers on the sand that you can carve out a space to call your own. You’re just trying to advance the thing — one bloody, gory inch at a time. Quality? Fuck quality. Just get up the beach. You will rewrite history later.

11. Stop thinking about publishing more than you think about writing. Publishing is not yours to control. You don’t own it. You don’t shape it. What you own and what you shape is there on the page. Worrying about publishing at this point is like letting the horse out of the barn before you’ve even tied it to the cart.

12. Come to the page excited. Every day, find a reason to be excited about the draft. Maybe it’s a scene you want to write, or a line of dialogue, or a riveting revelatory plot twist. MAYBE THE WHOLE CHAPTER IS REALLY AN ACROSTIC POEM. I don’t know! I don’t care! Just find a reason to sit down every day and be geeked about writing.

13. If you’re not geeked about writing that day, write anyway. No, seriously.

14. End the day’s writing in the middle. Do not bring the word count to a satisfying conclusion. End it at a moment of tension or stress. Hell, cut yourself off mid-sentence. WORDUS INTERRUPTUS. Tomorrow, you’ll be excited to return and obsessively finish that thing you (also obsessively) chose not to finish.

15. Hunt, kill and eat a mailman. Mailmen are made of words. They deliver words every day to people. Hunt one down and devour him to consume all the words he has ever delivered.

15. (Okay that last one isn’t true I just wanted to see if you were paying attention. Let’s try again.)

15. Skip the boring parts. Just fucking skip them. Boop. Done. I mean, c’mon. You know when they’re coming. You can tell when you’re in the boot-sucking mire, because other dullards will be there, too, gargling in the dark as they sink into the muck. Skip it. Grow wings and fly above it. Hurry past the stupid stuff and get right to the exciting parts. Seriously, you’d be amazed at how freeing it is to decide willy-nilly, “This part I’m writing is boring the pants off me,” and then you just… stop writing it and hop-skip-jump to a much cooler part. (Actually, boring the pants off you is the wrong phrase. Because I’m rarely bored with my pants off. I think the phrase should be, “Boring the pants onto you.” Like, the work is so boring it made you get an accounting job somewhere where you had to wear gray slacks and eat gruel out of the company fridge.)

16. Forget your darlings and kill your distractions. You go to write, something distracts you. Phone. Social media. That bird you have in your pocket. Why do you have a bird in your pocket? Were you planning on eating it? Is it a sex thing? LET THE BIRD GO, WEIRDO, AND GET BACK TO WRITING YOUR BOOK.

17. Stop worrying about what everyone else is doing. What genre they’re writing, how many words per day, what advice they’re giving — just, nngh, meh, fuck it. Get shut of it. That includes any effluvium that comes frothing out of my mouth, too. If it distracts you, if it hobbles you, bin it and move on.

18. Have an outline. Or don’t have an outline. I don’t give a unicorn’s ugly butthole what you do — just make a choice and stick with it. The larger message here is: know your process. You know the things that work for you, so do them. And yes, that’s right, unicorns have ugly buttholes. Wretched cankers, those little poopers. Like a rotten little mouth spitting glittery dirt into a meadow. Everything about the unicorn is majestic and beautiful except that one part. It’s like their Achilles’ heel or something? I dunno. I didn’t make it up. It’s mythology. Don’t get mad at me, unicorn lovers. I’m just speaking truth to power.

19. Change processes that aren’t working for you. This isn’t politics. Nobody is going to accuse you of doing a flip-flop. (And by the way isn’t that a thing we want our politicians to do, within reason? To change their opinions when new information is received?) If something doesn’t feel right, or circumstances in your life have changed — then change what you’re doing. Adjust your writing time. Shift the process. Do an outline or don’t do an outline. Try new things to switch it up. Art is a chimera, man. You want to catch the weird-ass Pokemon called YOUR FINISHED NOVEL, sometimes you have to change your tactics in the middle of the hunt.

20. Take the exit once in a while. Writing is a journey. Driving is a journey. Sometimes driving means taking the exit — get off the highway, and find the backroads. Drive down the backroads, you might see some unexpected sights. You might see a weird little restaurant, or a pretty bridge, or some guy riding an elk hunting giant spiders with a flaming crossbow. I dunno. I’m just saying, you can see some shit out there. In fiction, you can be motived by sometimes taking a hard right turn off the expected narrative path. Take the exit, find the backroad. Also, someone please write a story about the elk-riding crossbow guy because I want to read it.

21. Fuck the fucking market. The market is unknowable. It is a cipher. Those who tell you what the market wants are not telling you what the market wants — they are interpreting the market the way an oracle interprets monkey guts. You’re better off writing what you love and writing it as well as you can, and hoping that the market will bear whatever it is. And hey, if you’re wrong, you’re wrong. But at least you wrote what you wanted. At least you mashed your heart onto the page and didn’t fail trying to second-guess what some cryptic industry wants from you.

22. Take controlled breaks. I write for 45-60 minutes and then tend to fuck off for 15 minutes. I time it. If I don’t time it, those 15 minutes will become three hours and then I’ll wonder why the sun is going down and why is my son graduating college and WHY ARE MY OSSIFIED BONES ERODING IN THIS MARTIAN WIND and whoa how did I get on Mars, I was supposed to be writing a book? Whatever. Take your breaks. Do things during these breaks that make you happy and avoid things that make you unhappy. If Facebook makes you unhappy, stop fucking looking at it. Delete it. Explode it. If looking at pictures of dinosaurs makes you happy, look at pictures of dinosaurs. I dunno. Masturbate. Eat a snack. Stare out the window. Then get back to work.

23. Reward yourself. Not just with breaks but with more happiness. Finish a day’s worth of writing? That’s worth something. I dunno that it’s worth like, a new car or a vacation, but it’s worth a piece of chocolate or something. Listen, we’re basically dogs, okay? We don’t do well with negative reinforcement, because then we learn to fear and hate the task even as we perform it. But we do hella well with positive reinforcement. Hack your dog-brain. Give yourself a treat, damnit. You deserve it, you cheeky poodle, you.

24. Shut up. Just… shut up. Tzzzt! Shh! Shush! Someone out there is saying, “But–” and I say, no. No! Stop. Just shut up. It’s okay if you don’t agree. It’s okay if none of this works. But truth is, you wanna write, you gotta write, and writing means finishing so go finish. Don’t tell me. Don’t yell at me. Prove me wrong. Make words come out of your parts. Use those GREASY LETTER-MASHERS you call fingers not to write me an angry email, but instead to write the book you aren’t writing. Trust me, the energy is far better spent writing the book, because I’m probably just gonna delete your email if it makes me unhappy.

25. Go right now and write. Right now. Go. Now. WRITE, YOU MONSTER, WRITE.

P.S. don’t panic

P.P.S. have a towel handy

P.P.S.S. you really are a monster, you monster

* * *

INVASIVE:

“Think Thomas Harris’ Will Graham and Clarice Starling rolled into one and pitched on the knife’s edge of a scenario that makes Jurassic Park look like a carnival ride. Another rip-roaring, deeply paranoid thriller about the reasons to fear the future.” — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Out now where books are sold.

Indiebound

Amazon

B&N

117 comments

Speak Your Mind, Word-Nerds